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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Irish offense explodes in injury-dampened win over Northwestern

It took all of two minutes and ten seconds on Wednesday night for Niele Ivey to signal for a timeout.

In the Irish’s much-anticipated home opener, it was the visiting Northwestern Wildcats that came out for the opening tip raring to go. The Wildcats scored the game’s first 8 points as Notre Dame quickly racked up 3 turnovers. A once-buzzing Purcell Pavillion hushed as Ivey took her earliest timeout of the young season.

The quiet didn’t last for long. Freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo drained a three-pointer just 19 seconds after Ivey’s timeout to get the Irish on the board. A steal-and-score from graduate student guard Anna DeWolfe further fired up the crowd before Hidalgo’s second three in as many minutes tied the game.

DeWolfe and Hidalgo would then combine for a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy play that gave Notre Dame a lead it would never relinquish. Receiving a full-court pass from junior guard Sonia Citron, DeWolfe went behind her back to find Hidalgo, who finished through contact for an “and-one” layup. 

With Purcell on its feet, the Irish hit the accelerator. They’d eventually cap off a 15-0 run later in the quarter, leading by 8 at the end of the period. It was only the start of what would be an explosive day for the Notre Dame offense.

With Northwestern reeling, the Irish piled on. Notre Dame tallied 32 second-quarter points, including an 11-0 run by Citron alone to end the half. Northwestern didn’t score a single basket in the final three minutes of the first half.

The offensive output ranked among the greatest in Irish history, with the 110-52 win marking their most lopsided victory over a Power Five opponent, as well as their most points scored against such an opponent, since 2012. All but two players on the Notre Dame roster recorded at least one bucket in the win.

After the game, Ivey praised her team for finding its groove after a rough start.

“Credit to Northwestern, they came out very aggressive. I thought they had a great start,” Ivey said after the game. “Then we kind of settled ourselves in, had to call a timeout. And then [we] started playing Irish basketball… Definitely wasn’t the start that I wanted, but I was proud of the group [for] responding to having a little bit of adversity after the game. But we need to start better.”

The win was dampened by the loss of Citron to injury late in the third quarter. Citron went down under the Northwestern basket with what appeared to be a lower-body injury following a tangle of several players and had to be helped off the court.

In the postgame press conference, Ivey said her message to the team was to simply channel their emotions about the injury into the game in front of them.

"[The win] was bittersweet just because Sonia went down," Ivey said. "I talked to them about trying to finish the game and play for her… It’s out of our control, so the only thing we can do is try to play for her for the rest of the game.”

Though the extent and specific nature of Citron’s injury remain unclear, any long-term loss of the combo guard would be a brutal blow for Ivey’s squad. The junior has emerged as one of the ACC’s best two-way players and was beginning to combine with Hidalgo to form a highly potent offensive duo. Even with Citron’s early departure, the pairing combined for 44 points on Wednesday night to go with 52 points on Sunday against NJIT.

Citron’s potential absence, combined with junior guard Olivia Miles still recovering from an ACL injury sustained at the end of last season, means Notre Dame may face the remainder of its non-conference schedule without its leaders in most statistical categories from 2022-23.

Should that be the case, expect Hidalgo’s already outsized role to grow even bigger. The freshman currently leads Notre Dame in points and assists and is second on the team in rebounds. She leads the entire country in steals on a per-game basis, notching 6 more tonight.

After the game though, Ivey stressed that any replacing of Citron’s output would need to be a collective effort:

“I think it’s an opportunity for everyone to do more,” Ivey said. “We have an incredible team, not just one person. This team is very balanced. Cass[andre Prosper], KK [Bransford] is back. We have a lot of great players on this team. Everybody’s just got to do a little bit more. Just like when Olivia went down, everybody stepped up and did a little bit more. So that’s just what I’m going to ask our entire team to do.”

Notre Dame now heads to Washington D.C. to face Illinois in the 2023 Citi Shamrock Classic. The game tips off at 1 p.m. ET and is available on NBC and Peacock.