SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame finally featured all the weapons it’s expected to have for a while.
However, figuring out how to best deploy those weapons remained a work in progress Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, and more than that, the effort of the weapons regardless of how they’re deployed proved insufficient to coach Niele Ivey.
“Disappointed with our defensive effort,” Ivey said after the Irish tipped the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of their women’s basketball season with an 82-67 loss to Georgia Tech.
It was the Yellow Jackets’ first-ever win over Notre Dame in 14 tries.
Tech improved to 4-1 overall, 2-0 in the league while dropping the Irish to 2-3 and 0-1.
ND used both man-to-man and zone defenses, but neither worked as the Jackets hit 32-of-60 field goals, including 10-of-19 on 3-pointers.
“I’m trying a lot of different things,” Ivey said. “I’m trying to figure out rotations and finding that nucleus still, and I feel like that was part of the problem today, (but) again, our defensive effort wasn’t where I want it to be. I know it can be better.”
More specifically, “Containing the ball,” Ivey explained. “I think that’s been an issue. It’s something we gotta improve. Defensive rotations, whether we’re in man or zone, not getting out on the shooters, and then approaching drivers, containing the ball, keeping it out of the middle. I thought that was a big issue in man or zone.”
Junior guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen scored 19 points, drained 4-of-6 shots outside the arc, dealt eight assists and made three steals for the Jackets, who had five players score in double digits, while senior forward Lorela Cubaj contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds to go with 8-of-13 shooting from the field.
Freshman sensation Maddy Westbeld tallied all of her game-high 21 points in the second half for Notre Dame and added a team-high nine rebounds. Dara Mabrey was the only other Irish player in double figures at 11 points.
Senior center Mikayla Vaughn, returning from offseason knee surgery, not only made her season debut for Notre Dame, but started.
Ivey cited matching up with Cubaj and protecting Westbeld from foul trouble as reasons for inserting Vaughn into the lineup right away.
She became the fourth Irish player to make a delayed debut this season and possibly the last for a while. Nat Marshall is still rehabbing after knee surgery, and Ivey indicated that the freshman’s return is not imminent.
Vaughn went just 2-of-9 from the field and 3-of-6 at the line over 25 minutes, but added four blocked shots and six rebounds to seven points.
“It’s going to take her a little bit to get acclimated to playing again,” Ivey said, “but just having her presence brings a whole other level.”
While sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert played a season-high 33 minutes in her third game and scored nine points — all in the first half — grad student guard Destinee Walker never appeared in the second half after playing nine minutes before the break.
“She’s fine,” Ivey said of whether Walker was out due to injury. “Just went with a different look defensively and kind of stuck with that look.”
Walker, who entered the day averaging 13.8 points, finished with two on one shot to go with a team-high two steals.
The Irish fell into a quick 11-4 hole to start the game, but rallied to lead for much of the first half, including at 33-27 with 2:50 to go.
Tech, however, closed the half on an 8-0 run that was fueled in part by four straight Notre Dame turnovers, three of them on offensive fouls.
The Jackets extended their run to 15-0 by scoring the first seven points of the third quarter for a 42-33 lead.
ND got no closer than five points over the rest of that period and no closer than eight in the fourth quarter.
“When they went on their 8-0 run, I think that really, really bothered us,” Ivey said. “I think it bothered our confidence.”
“We’re a brand new team regardless of who’s on the court,” Westbeld said, referring to the five freshmen additions as well as the staggered returns of three other players. “I think everybody individually is trying to find their place.”
Sam Brunelle, one of those delayed returnees, finished with seven points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes. Fellow sophomore Anaya Peoples tallied a season-low six points.
The Irish committed 16 turnovers to just 10 for Tech.
Believed to be a first for Notre Dame women’s basketball, seven of the team’s 13 players — Amirah Abdur-Rahim, Gilbert, Alasia Hayes, Marshall, Abby Prohaska, Vaughn and Walker — knelt during the national anthem, while standing players placed a hand on the shoulders of their kneeling teammates.
“We kneel in protest of the systemic racism, police brutality and continuous racial injustice towards Black Americans that permeates throughout the core of our society,” read a statement that was released by the program shortly after the opening tip.
“We also kneel to mourn the lives of our Black brothers and sisters that have died unjustly,” the statement continued in part. “For all of the reasons that we choose to kneel, disrespecting the flag or those who have served or are serving the country under the banner of the flag is not one of them.”
The statement concluded, “We love, respect and support the decision of all members of our program to kneel or stand for the national anthem. We ask that you do the same.”
Following the game, Ivey said the action taken was something that was preceded by much conversation, “and I was fully supportive of them.”
“(It’s) something we’ve discussed since the summer,” Ivey said. “We’ve had many, many dialogues about social justice and social injustice.”
GEORGIA TECH (4-1): Cubaj 8-13 0-2 16, Wone Aranaz 2-4 1-1 5, Bates 4-11 0-0 12, Lahtinen 7-15 1-2 19, McQueen 3-4 4-5 11, Hermosa 3-3 0-0 6, Fletcher 0-0 0-0 0, Carter 1-1 0-0 2, Love 4-9 2-2 11, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 32-60 8-12 82
NOTRE DAME (2-3): Westbeld 6-13 6-6 21, Vaughn 2-9 3-6 7, Mabrey 4-7 0-0 11, Peoples 3-8 0-0 6, Walker 1-1 0-0 2, Brunelle 3-6 0-0 7, Gilbert 3-5 2-4 9, Prohaska 1-5 0-0 2, Abdur-Rahim 0-0 0-0 0, Hayes 1-1 0-2 2, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 24-55 11-18 67
Georgia Tech 15 20 26 21 — 82
Notre Dame 18 15 18 16 — 67
3-Point Goals_Georgia Tech 10-19 (Bates 4-11, Lahtinen 4-6, McQueen 1-1, Love 1-1), Notre Dame 8-13 (Westbeld 3-4, Mabrey 3-4, Peoples 0-2, Brunelle 1-2, Gilbert 1-1). Assists_Georgia Tech 17 (Lahtinen 8), Notre Dame 11 (Mabrey 3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Georgia Tech 30 (Cubaj 5-13), Notre Dame 34 (Westbeld 3-9). Total Fouls_Georgia Tech 16, Notre Dame 15. Technical Fouls_None. A_93.