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Friday, April 19, 2024
The Observer


Relentless defense leads Irish to senior night win over Clemson

Irish force 21 turnovers in 74-47 victory

With 2:56 remaining in the fourth quarter on Notre Dame women’s basketball senior night the Purcell Pavilion crowd rose to its feet — but not for a stifling block or a deep 3-pointer.

Senior guard Sarah Cernugel entered the game to replace graduate student guard Anna DeWolfe, a swapping of players who could not have taken more different routes to being honored in South Bend on Thursday night.

Cernugel walked onto the team in 2021, joining — or perhaps creating — a short list of athletes to have played two different varsity sports at two different tri-campus universities. Cernugel played soccer at Holy Cross her freshman year before transferring to Notre Dame. DeWolfe joined the Irish over the summer as a graduate transfer after starting 111 games for Fordham.

The unlikely pairing represents one-third of the six seniors and graduate students Notre Dame honored, a group of players who vary in their contributions to an Irish squad that has slowly evolved under Niele Ivey, who took over as head coach in concurrence with seniors Maddy Westbeld and Natalija Marshall first arriving on campus.

Perhaps in recognition of a group filled with unique contributions and pathways, the Irish spread the ball around on Thursday night. Six players combined for 19 total assists. Five players scored in double figures, with junior forward Kylee Watson just behind at 9 points. Scoring wasn’t the only area of the stat sheet where everyone got involved. Different players led the Irish in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. Every healthy player on Notre Dame’s roster notched at least one statistical contribution.

It wasn’t always as easy for the Irish as the 74-47 final score might have indicated. It was Clemson who jumped out to an early 14-4 lead, making five of their first six shots. Even as Notre Dame worked their way back into the game it was the Tigers who won the first quarter, entering the second frame ahead 18-16.

The final 30 minutes of the game, however, were all Irish. Notre Dame outscored Clemson over the ensuing two quarters by a margin of 43-18. Junior Sonia Citron led the way, entering halftime with 14 points on an unblemished 100% field goal percentage.

Even after Citron cooled in the second half, scoring 2 points in just 7 minutes of action, her teammates picked up the slack. Westbeld added 9 second-half points to go with a game-high 12 rebounds. Sophomore KK Bransford made the most of her 17 minutes in the final two frames, adding 9 points of her own. 

The Irish team’s defense was locked in as well, holding the Tigers to just 31.7% overall from the field and a single 3-pointer in the second half. Despite four bench players playing 7 minutes or more, Clemson was held to just two points from non-starters. Notre Dame totaled ten blocks on the day — Marshall led the way with four, but Westbeld (2), senior forward Kylee Watson (2), graduate student forward Becky Obinma (1) and freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo (1) all got involved as well.

The win gives the Irish some much-needed momentum heading into an all-important final stretch of the season. After a Sunday trip to Boston College Notre Dame will host a pair of ranked ACC opponents currently jostling with the Irish for a position in conference standings. A win against either Virginia Tech or Louisville would provide Notre Dame a key resume boost with projected NCAA tournament seeding lists beginning to take shape.

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