Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

20230126, Purcell Pavilion, Ryan Vigilante, vs. FSU, Women's Baskebtall-2.jpg

Notre Dame defeats Kent State to advance in NCAA Tournament

Citron's 29 points, Hidalgo's double-double spring Irish to 81-67 win in Round of 64

As fans across the country have seen over the past couple of days, anyone can win in March Madness — especially unranked, mid-major teams. The madness that encapsulates March can ruin any team’s success, but maybe not Notre Dame’s — or at least, not just yet.

Notre Dame’s recent run has been difficult. Its now nine-game win streak is even more impressive when considering the five wins before Kent State came against ranked teams. Kent State, while talented, is not in the same caliber as Louisville, Virginia Tech or NC State, and that showed on Saturday. The Irish controlled the Golden Flashes from the start, advancing to the Round of 32 with an 81-67 win.

In the game’s first minutes, Notre Dame came out firing, including an 18-0 Irish run in the first quarter. With senior forward Kylee Watson’s absence, Notre Dame needed its shooters to step up. Graduate guard Anna DeWolfe did just that, continuing her hot streak with a 10-point first half on 4-for-5 shooting.

On offense, Kent State played very similarly to Notre Dame. The Golden Flashes utilize a lot of off-ball cuts and screens while also driving the ball into the paint and kicking out for looks from 3. While the idea has worked, the execution did not on Saturday. Kent State was plagued by missed layups, travels and a brutal day from deep. 

Kent State's play turns unconventional on defense, though. The Golden Flashes use a selection of uncommon zones, including a 1-2-2, a 2-2-1 and a diamond-and-one. All these zones look to swarm the ball and create traps, which can be effective against immature teams. Notre Dame showed its poise, though, and when the lane was full of Kent State defenders, the Irish kicked it out of traffic toward open looks.

After the halftime break, Notre Dame slowed down slightly. Although senior forward Maddy Westbeld went into halftime with three personal fouls, head coach Niele Ivey trusted her senior leader, deciding to let her play early. For nine minutes and 59 seconds, Westbeld avoided picking up a fourth foul. But on a last-second Kent State shot to end the quarter, Westbeld made contact, fouling out of the game.

Notre Dame’s shooting also took a turn, with the Irish going 0 for 4 from deep, 4 for 13 from the field and 2 for 6 from the free-throw line in the third quarter. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Golden Flashes cut the lead to 13.

The foul trouble continued for the Irish, although no other Irish player was disqualified in the end. Notre Dame saw its lead cut to 12, but after every Golden Flashes run, it responded. After a lay-in from junior guard Sonia Citron with 2:10 remaining, the fans and team began to celebrate. It was all Notre Dame from there.

Ultimately, Saturday’s game moves the team towards its goal of making it to Cleveland for the Final Four. Notre Dame’s win streak now extends to nine, stretching all the way back to Feb. 19 against Duke. 

Citron led the way for the Irish, finishing with 29 points that tied a 27-month-old career high. Kent State head coach Todd Starkey was particularly impressed with her performance, expressing it as a key reason the Irish went out on top.

“Defensively, I thought we did a really good job on [freshman guard] Hannah Hidalgo. You have to take something away from a team as talented as them,” said Starkey. “We just didn't expect Citron to have 29, a career high. She was just unconscious. Now, we helped her out. She had some open looks, but she hit some difficult shots as well and really was what separated them early.” 

On a slower scoring day, Hidalgo acted as more of a distributor, finishing with 14 points and 11 assists. DeWolfe took up some of her slack, hitting two key, first-half 3-pointers and ending the day with 12 points. The bigger takeaway for DeWolfe, though, might just have been playing in the game. In her four seasons at Fordham, the graduate transfer never played in an NCAA Tournament game. Although DeWolfe is always smiling and making jokes with her teammates, that shone even more in Saturday’s win.

“I was actually talking to one of my classmates the other day about enjoying every moment and knowing that I get another chance to step on this court and wear this jersey. It just means a lot,” DeWolfe said. “[I am] enjoying every second and try[ing] to remind myself why I'm here and why I'm doing what I'm doing, and truly enjoying every second I get to step on the court with my friends.”

Ivey was complimentary of her team’s efforts. However, she did admit that her team made some defensive lapses and mistakes.

“I thought we fouled and had some defensive lapses that put us in a bad situation with foul trouble,” she said. “Hopefully that was a lesson for us, and then we could do better on Monday.”

The Irish now look ahead to Monday against Ole Miss — the team who beat Marquette in the second game of the day. In the regular season, Ole Miss finished third in the Southeastern Conference. The Rebels eventually lost to LSU in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Ole Miss has not won a game against a team ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. Ole Miss and Notre Dame share Louisville, South Carolina and Tennessee as common opponents. Ole Miss lost to Louisville by six and South Carolina by 29 while beating Tennessee by five.

The tip-off time for Monday’s game at Purcell Pavilion is 2 p.m.