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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame women's basketball moves on in ACC tournament

A hot start and poised finish push the Irish past Louisville in postseason opener

Fresh off four days of rest, Notre Dame women’s basketball defeated the Louisville Cardinals 77-68 in Friday’s ACC quarterfinals. While the Irish came ready to play, Louisville did not. After scraping by an abysmal Boston College team in the second round on Thursday, the Cardinals looked tired, lacking some of the physicality and edge that had defined the team throughout this season.

The game started slow offensively — although the pace was blistering. Both teams rushed up and down the floor. Eight of Notre Dame’s 19 first quarter points came off of turnovers. The Irish started hot from 3 as well, as the team made 3 of its first 7 shots.

On the other hand, the Cardinals could not make a shot early. In the first half, the team shot 21% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. Louisville is not a strong 3-point shooting team, but in the team’s biggest regular-season wins, strong 3-point shooting propelled the team to its biggest quad one wins.

Notre Dame cooled off slightly near the end of the third quarter, leading into the fourth. In quarter three, the Irish were outscored by five points. The Cardinals took advantage of the bonus after Notre Dame accumulated eight third-quarter fouls. 

Notre Dame experienced scoring droughts in the fourth quarter, including several with no scores in a 90-second span. In the same stretch, Louisville was hot from the field, shooting 2 for 4 from 3 and 67% from the field in the fourth. The Cardinals cut the margin to four after trailing by as many as 22. However, the Cardinals hurt themselves, fouling six times before the five-minute media timeout. Notre Dame took full advantage of the bonus. The Irish had 16 free throw attempts in the final quarter.

When the game mattered the most, the Irish turned to their star. With 1:42 left, off her right hand, freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo made a second-chance layup, bringing the Irish lead to six. She ended with 21 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals. It was all Notre Dame after her make, as the Irish scored the last six points of the matchup. 

The day’s best performance came from Sonia Citron, who earlier this week was named to the All-ACC Second Team. The junior guard had a lights-out shooting day, contributing 26 points, including two 3-pointers. 

Senior forward Maddy Westbeld also helped out the effort. She only left the game for one minute. But in her other 39, she was battling in the low post. Although it was not her best defensive performance, it was good enough to allow Notre Dame to live another day.

Even though Louisville played hard in the second half, Notre Dame’s biggest enemy was perhaps the officiating crew. Notre Dame had 17 personal fouls in the second half, and it felt like almost any contact led to a whistle. Senior forward Kylee Watson fouled out. Hidalgo, Citron and graduate guard Anna DeWolfe all ended with four fouls. At the same time, the whistle rewarded Hidalgo’s adventurous style of play. She had 14 free throw attempts.

Louisville will now have at least two weeks until they begin their run in the NCAA tournament. Friday’s action was not limited to the court, though. Louisville head coach Jeff Walz is known for “working” the referees, but he went to the next level on Friday. Walz received his first technical foul in the third quarter, which was oddly called by a referee on the other side of the court — not the one he was yelling at. Walz calmed down for a few minutes, but he chirped up at the end of the game. Walz was assessed another technical foul with 18 seconds remaining in the game, leading to his ejection. 

On both occasions, Walz was mad about out-of-bounds calls.

“I just need a game to be administered correctly,” he said after the game. 

Walz commented that he was looking forward to reviewing the highlights, but he was keen to note that he didn’t expect to receive any apology from the league.

Walz expressed extreme disappointment in his team, which finished with 20 turnovers to 22 made field goals. Walz didn’t think it was simply a poor shooting performance or bad execution — he directly attacked the work ethic of his players.

“We work on it in practice. But if you don’t give a sh*t, it’s hard,” he said. “They have to care. That’s where we are right now.”

Conversely, just minutes before Walz spoke, the room was as warm as possible. Niele Ivey went out of her way to express her satisfaction with the team’s play.

“[I’m] so excited for this win. This league is so tough,” she said.  “We had an incredible first half. [We] withstood Louisville’s push… We are just really gelling at the right time and playing off each other’s energy.”

After Louisville’s early fourth-quarter run, Ivey showed her team a whiteboard with one word: poise. The message clearly stuck with the Irish.

“Last year, with the mistakes we made, we would have let it snowball,” said Citron. “We did a good job staying calm and collected.”

Westbeld echoed a similar sentiment. 

“We were playing kind of desperate getting into [the fourth quarter], so I think playing poised was the biggest thing for us,” she said.

Notre Dame now turns its attention to the tournament semifinal tomorrow against the winner of top-seeded Virginia Tech and Miami. Notre Dame beat both teams during the regular season. With Friday’s win, the Irish have an even likelier chance of hosting its first two NCAA tournament games at home. Saturday's action tips off at 12 p.m. on the ACC Network.