LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Notre Dame threw a scare into No. 1 Louisville — and almost even threw in a go-ahead basket late — before the Cardinals steadied themselves for a 71-65 women’s college basketball victory Sunday afternoon.
The Irish (8-8 overall, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference), playing in front of a crowd of 2,912 at the KFC Yum! Center, suffered their season-high third straight loss.
League leader Louisville improved to 18-1 and 11-1.
“Inspired by what I saw today as far as our team competing and fighting,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “I’m always talking about how I’m trying to teach this team how to get better and fight and compete, and I felt like we did that today. I was very proud of our effort.”
The Irish trailed 66-58 inside of four minutes remaining before going on a 7-0 run to close to 66-65 on back-to-back Maddy Westbeld buckets and a Dara Mabrey 3-pointer at the 1:41 mark.
Westbeld then made a steal on the move at 1:22 left, but her pull-up jumper from about 15 feet was off the mark.
“Of course, I’m the type that I want to get to the rim or get a foul,” Ivey said of the play, “but in that scenario, that was the shot she felt comfortable with. She’s my leading scorer (on the season), she has done so much for me, so I’m going to ride with her to the end. She’s a freshman. All this is still a learning experience for a lot of people. It just happened that she ended up missing the shot, but she had just hit one, so I could see why she felt like that was a good look for her.”
On the ensuing possession, All-American Louisville senior guard Dana Evans, using a high screen, drained a right-wing 3-pointer off the dribble for a 69-65 Cardinal lead at 57 seconds to go.
Westbeld then missed inside for ND at 0:41 showing.
After that, the Irish had to foul three times to reach the penalty, before Evans canned a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds left for the final count.
The reigning ACC Player of the Year finished with 27 points and five assists.
“Dana Evans was phenomenal,” Ivey said of the 5-foot-6 Gary native. “She’s definitely the best guard in the ACC and I think she proved tonight, 27 points, that she’s one of the best guards in the country.”
Junior guard Kianna Smith added 16 points and five steals for Louisville to go with 4-of-8 shooting outside the arc. Elizabeth Balogun chipped in 12 points and three blocks, while Olivia Cochran grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Irish wound up astoundingly balanced. Sam Brunelle, Mikki Vaughn, Olivia Miles and Westbeld each scored 10 points. Destinee Walker tallied nine, while Mabrey and Anaya Peoples netted eight apiece.
Brunelle added team highs of nine rebounds and five assists, Vaughn notched eight boards and two blocks, and Miles closed at 5-of-8 from the field, while Westbeld labored at 4-of-14.
Miles, the early enrollee playing just her second collegiate game, keyed ND in the third quarter with six straight points to pull her team to within 52-50, crossing over Evans for the last of those.
“She’s learning on the fly,” Ivey said of Miles, who logged 14 minutes. “I thought she had some big plays. She’s just getting comfortable, she’s just getting started. … I think she shows in glimpses her impact. It’s going to be a tremendous impact.”
The Irish used an 11-0 spurt for a 17-12 lead in the first quarter, but the Cardinals answered with a 9-0 run to take the lead for good other than a 25-25 tie.
Notre Dame trailed by as many as 11 points twice in the second half, including 61-50 early in the fourth quarter, before rallying to within one.
“I think that’s going to give us a little boost of confidence to know we can play with the No. 1 team in the country,” Ivey said. “We’re just gonna get back to work and prepare for NC State.”
The Irish will have eight days between games, visiting the No. 4-ranked Wolfpack on Feb. 15.
State (12-2, 7-2) was a surprise 76-69 loser at rival North Carolina on Sunday and will host Clemson on Thursday before ND heads to Raleigh.
NOTRE DAME (8-8): Westbeld 4-14 1-2 10, Vaughn 4-8 2-2 10, Mabrey 3-9 0-0 8, Peoples 4-9 0-0 8, Prohaska 0-1 0-0 0, Brunelle 4-12 0-0 10, Miles 5-8 0-0 10, Walker 2-5 4-4 9, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-66 7-8 65
LOUISVILLE (18-1): Dixon 2-7 0-1 4, Evans 9-21 5-6 27, Robinson 2-4 1-2 5, Smith 6-13 0-0 16, Van Lith 1-6 1-2 3, Cochran 1-5 0-0 2, Balogun 5-10 1-1 12, Konno 1-2 0-0 2, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-68 8-12 71
Notre Dame 17 17 16 15 — 65
Louisville 21 21 16 13 — 71
3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 6-20 (Westbeld 1-3, Mabrey 2-6, Prohaska 0-1, Brunelle 2-5, Miles 0-2, Walker 1-3), Louisville 9-26 (Evans 4-11, Smith 4-8, Van Lith 0-2, Balogun 1-4, Konno 0-1). Assists_Notre Dame 14 (Brunelle 5), Louisville 12 (Evans 5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Notre Dame 41 (Vaughn 3-8), Louisville 41 (Dixon 3-6). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 16, Louisville 10. Technical Fouls_None. A_2,912.