LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In recent years, after every Notre Dame women’s basketball leap, there seems to be a corresponding dip. Thursday night added to the program’s history with an embarrassing seven-point loss to No. 15 Louisville. Coming off a tough Monday loss at North Carolina State, the Cardinals bounced back to beat a Notre Dame team that ended up defeating itself.
The Irish started 0-8 from the field with three turnovers. Ultimately, head coach Niele Ivey called a timeout after an 11-0 Louisville run. Notre Dame had a miraculous comeback, ending the half down just one point due to impressive forced turnovers and solid involvement by Notre Dame’s supporting cast. Sophomore guard KK Bransford added six first-quarter points, including two jumpers. Senior forward Natalija Marshall camped out under the baseline and grabbed a clutch first-quarter layup to help the Irish cut down the deficit.
Notre Dame scored 57.5% of its points in the paint, an unusually high mark that was due to a poor day from beyond the arc. The Irish went 2-18 on three-point attempts. Freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo and junior guard Sonia Citron each missed four attempts. Conversely, the Cardinals had a much better night from distance, shooting 38.9%, with three of their makes coming in a 2-minute span in the middle of the fourth quarter. Notre Dame stayed close, mostly due to Louisville’s abysmal late-game shooting from the charity stripe, as the Cardinals missed five free throws in the final two minutes.
Down seven with 36 seconds left on the clock, senior forward Maddy Westbeld threw an inbound pass directly to a Louisville defender, removing any last-second chance the Irish had at salvaging the game.
“Kind of a frustrating loss,” Irish head coach Niele Ivey said after the game. “We didn’t start very poised. 13-2 run. Credit to them. We had a bunch of mental lapses, defensively and offensively. And they capitalized on it.”
Ivey, however, was complimentary of Hannah Hidalgo’s play.
“She did a great job, carrying the team on her back offensively,” Ivey said.
Hidalgo dropped 30 points off of 12-25 shooting from the field. Twelve of her points came off of layups. Twelve came from jumpers. She also made all six of her free throw attempts.
While disappointed, Ivey continued to express confidence in her team.
“Mental lapses allowed them to gain confidence and capitalize against our mistakes,” Ivey said.
Notre Dame has now shot under 35% in four of its five losses. Coach Ivey expressed confidence in her team’s ability to shoot from deep going forward.
“Those are great three point shooters. I thought they had the right looks. They just didn’t drop for us tonight," Ivey said.
The Irish will host Louisville at Purcell Pavilion to close the regular season. Unfortunately, Notre Dame doesn’t catch a break anytime soon with its next two against Florida State and No. 3 North Carolina State. Although unranked, Florida State also beat Tennessee and has league wins against North Carolina and No. 16 Virginia Tech.
For the Irish, fortunately, no single loss kills the season or derails the program. However, the team needs to step up in big moments and demonstrate its potential if it wants to host games in the NCAA tournament. Four seeds (and better) host games for the first two rounds. Notre Dame has a strong NET ranking, however, coming in eighth at the start of the week.
The Irish take on Florida State on Sunday at noon on ACC Network.
Sign up for our Observer Sports newsletter!
Have an Irish sports question? Ask it for our Observer Sports mailbag!