Notre Dame women's basketball gets season's first road test at Syracuse
Maddy Westbeld led a thunderous 21-0 finish with the first nine points of that spree as front-running Notre Dame pulled away down the stretch for an 82-56 win over host Syracuse in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball opener.
The Irish improved to 3-0, all three of those wins coming by at least 26 points.
Westbeld scored 19 points, made 8-of-13 field goals and added six rebounds despite sitting out all of the second quarter and finishing at 23 minutes.
Sam Brunelle added 17 points in 24 minutes off the bench.
Backcourt partners Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles were both multi-pronged potent.
Mabrey netted 16 points, drained 4-of-6 on 3-pointers, dished seven assists and snatched a career-high four steals. Miles tallied 10 points to go with eight assists and seven rebounds.
► One game at a time:A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season
► ND’s persistent problem while going 10-10 last season came in protecting leads and closing out contests late, with turnovers usually the culprit.
Sunday was as opposite as opposite can be.
Those final 21 points by the Irish came after they led 61-56 at eight minutes remaining.
“We executed, we handled their pressure versus the press and really got some good looks,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said.
After coughing up 14 giveaways in the opening half, the Irish had just three more over the initial 19-plus minutes of the second half, before being charged with two meaningless ones in the final seconds.
“I just talked about the way we were turning the ball over,” Ivey said of her halftime message to her players. “I thought it was very careless. I didn't feel like we were being strong with the ball (and) were making poor decisions.”
► After starting the season with two night games, playing at noon proved none too soon, and playing on the road for the first time after two home games didn’t make the Irish flinch, either.
With 13 straight points, ND bolted to a 13-3 lead at the cavernous Carrier Dome by the 3:48 mark of the opening quarter, helping the visitors to stay ahead the rest of the afternoon despite the Orange (1-1) getting as close at 34-33 early in the third quarter.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with this team,” Ivery said, alluding to some of the first-time variables her club faced. “To get our first road victory, I’m just so ecstatic.”
Not only was the game on the early side and on the road, but the Irish were unable to follow their usual routine of a night-before shootaround because the New York state high school football playoffs were being contested Friday night at the Dome.
“We had to get up early and had a shootaround at 8 a.m.,” Ivey said. “Not a normal situation. … With that situation, I thought we did really well.”
► While the second quarter was the lone quarter in which Notre Dame did not outscore Syracuse, it still may have been as pivotal as any in producing the victory.
Despite Westbeld sitting out all of that period and fellow starting forward Maya Dodson sitting out all but the first 19 seconds of it because they’d each picked up their second fouls, the Irish were outscored just 18-17, leaving them up 34-28 at the break.
“It was crucial,” Ivey said of how well the Irish played with both bigs out. “It’s the first time we’ve been in a situation where (multiple) starters were in foul trouble. Sometimes when you get into foul trouble, you get very tentative, (but) my bench was ready.”
Including the 17 points from Brunelle, and nine more from freshman Sonia Citron — who also grabbed seven rebounds and made three steals in 24 minutes — the ND bench outscored Syracuse’s 28-7.
Mabrey’s first 3-pointer during her 4-of-6 day outside the arc was also the 200th of her career.
In her second season at Notre Dame and fourth overall including her time at Virginia Tech, Mabrey’s now 203-of-506 in her career from distance for 40.1%.
She’s a shade ahead of both her older sisters in percentage.
Michaela, now an Irish assistant, was 228-of-576 for 39.6% during her ND playing days. Marina, the program’s all-time leader in makes, finished 274-of-685 for exactly 40%.
Dara’s 16 points Sunday also left her at precisely 1,000 for her college career.
Marina scored 1,896 and Michaela 936.
Westbeld has 34 points and 24 rebounds, three blocks and three steals over 48 minutes in her last two games.
Despite starting all three games and logging 62 minutes, Anaya Peoples has been somewhat quiet at 12 points. On the other hand, it’s not because she’s missing a bunch of shots (4-of-7 field, 4-of-4 line). The junior’s mixed in other contributions, too, that include 15 boards and six assists against four turnovers.
While Sunday decisively marked ND’s earliest-ever conference game in terms of date, the Irish have played one other conference contest that stands as even more of an outlier in terms of sequence.
In 1990-91, Notre Dame opened its season with a league game, hosting and beating Midwestern Collegiate Conference foe Evansville, 83-65. It was played Nov. 26.
Typically, MCC games, like ACC games, began much later into given seasons, and ND’s second league game that season was Jan. 3, but there was that unusual exception.
The Irish venture back outside the league for their next eight games, beginning with hosting Fordham (2-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Rams and ND met as recently as two years ago at Fordham, when the Irish played a rare road season opener, winning 60-55.