Notre Dame women's basketball team rolls past Georgia Tech, avoids Louisville rematch
Notre Dame may have picked up a pivotal win before it even took the court, but the honed-in and sharpshooting Irish added the one that made that other one even matter by beating Georgia Tech 71-53 in Friday night’s closing Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament women’s basketball quarterfinal at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.
Freshman Olivia Miles scored 17 points and tied an ACC Tourney record with 13 assists as third-seeded ND (22-7) advanced to a 2:30 p.m. semifinal Saturday against seventh-seeded Miami (19-11).
The Hurricanes secured their spot with a stunning 61-59 upset of No. 4-ranked second seed Louisville on Destiny Harden’s 18-footer at the final horn. Miami trailed 54-38 with eight minutes to go.
►One game at a time:A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season
That result spared the Irish having to face their apparent kryptonite in the Cardinals for a third time in 21 days after already falling to Louisville 73-47 and 86-64, the second of those coming just this past Sunday when host ND trailed 54-15 by halftime.
Sophomore Maddy Westbeld scored 17 points — her second-best output in her last 16 games — and added a team-high eight rebounds against the Yellow Jackets (21-10).
Sam Brunelle delivered 14 points off the bench — her top output in her last 10 games — while drilling 4-of-8 on 3-pointers.
► Keyed by the facilitating of Miles, as well as her own point production, the comprehensively hot Irish hit 29-of-56 shots from the field for 51.8% and drained 10-of-27 on 3-pointers for 37%.
That overall percentage was ND’s best in its last 15 games on the same night that the 10 triples were its best in 17 games.
It happened, no less, against a Georgia Tech club that entered the evening No. 1 in the ACC in fewest points allowed per game at 51.2 and No. 2 in field goal defense at 34.9%.
“We got a lot of shots in transition,” said Miles, who committed just three turnovers against her 13 assists. “We just ran the floor and (the defenders) all ran to the paint and I kicked out to Sam a couple times, kicked out to Sonia. I feel like that’s how I was getting a lot of my assists and how we were shooting wide open shots.”
Miles’ 13 dimes were one short of her career high. She converted 7-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-7 on 3s, to go with six rebounds and two steals.
“She’s so special,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “She’s never backed down from a challenge. She lives for this, she’s so excited to be in this tournament and she has gotten better every single game this year. … I’m really excited for her maturation and what she brings to our team, because she makes us go.”
► ND’s two interior players in Westbeld and Maya Dodson got the decided best of Tech’s top two in Lorela Cubaj and Nerea Hermosa.
Despite each navigating some foul trouble, Westbeld and Dodson combined for 23 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and 10-of-18 from the field.
Cubaj and Hermosa closed at a combined 10 points, 12 rebounds and one block with 4-of-16 from the field for the sixth-seeded Jackets.
Overall, the Irish finished with a 30-10 advantage in paint points.
“I feel like we really matched their physicality, and we learned that from the first time we played Georgia Tech,” Ivey said of ND’s 72-66 overtime road win on Feb. 17. “I feel like those two posts, Cubaj and Hermosa, are two of the best posts in the league and the country.”
Offensively, Westbeld struck from inside, mid-range and deep. Defensively, she had the Jackets off balance much of the way inside.
“(It’s) just going in not afraid,” Westbeld said, “knowing we’re just as big, just as strong as they are, and we can compete with whoever in the country.”
► The 20th-ranked Irish displayed no residual effects from the disheartening beating they took at the hands of Louisville just five days earlier.
Instead, they exuded confidence.
“Coming back from Sunday, it’s zero-zero now and it’s postseason,” Westbeld said. “Everything that happened during the season is over with. … Whatever happened that last game, we were ready to play Georgia Tech even more.”
“We talked about how we’re not packing for one day,” Miles said. “We’re packing for all three.”
Notre Dame grabbed the lead for good at 9-7 on a Brunelle 3-pointer in the opening quarter, pushed the spread to 34-25 by halftime, allowed the No. 25 Jackets no closer than 40-36 in the second half, and responded to that particular count with a 7-0 run.
Up 54-43 entering the final quarter, the Irish let Tech no closer than 60-53, at 4:12 to go, then scored the final 11 points.
“I feel like we came out and set the tone,” Ivey said. “We made a statement. (Our players) were fresh and they responded from our loss Sunday. We had such great contributions from the entire team.”
Notre Dame — after capturing the ACC Tournament during five of its first six years in the league and finishing as runner-up the other year — had lost its opening game in each of the last two tourneys, both times to lower-seeded clubs.
“For us to be able to advance, it’s a big deal,” Ivey said.
Last winter, the sixth-seeded Irish fell 68-63 to No. 11 seed Clemson.
“Even though I didn’t experience a full season,” said Miles, who played in six contests a year ago as a January enrollee, “I still felt the pain (of the Clemson loss), I still felt the drive to be better, and that really helped me to come out here.”
Freshman Sonia Citron went 5-of-7 from the field on her way to 12 points as ND’s fourth scorer in double digits.
Dara Mabrey, ND’s top 3-point shooter on the season in both conversions and percentage going into the night, finished 1-of-7 outside the arc, but it didn’t matter on an evening that her teammates combined for 9-of-20.
Saturday’s matchup with Miami comes 23 days after the host Irish took the regular-season meeting 69-53.
Since that game, though, the Canes have won seven of eight, including not only shocking Louisville on Friday, but downing host Georgia Tech recently by 12.
The opening semifinal Saturday sends top-seeded and No. 2-ranked North Carolina State (27-3) against 21st-ranked fifth seed Virginia Tech (23-8) at noon.
Both of Saturday’s semis will be on ACC Network and Sunday’s noon championship on ESPN.
No. 20 NOTRE DAME 71, No. 25 GEORGIA TECH 53
GEORGIA TECH (21-10): Cubaj 2-11 0-0 4, Strautmane 4-10 0-0 12, Hermosa 2-5 2-2 6, Lahtinen 2-13 2-2 8, Love 4-12 3-4 11, Wone Aranaz 0-0 0-0 0, Bates 3-7 0-0 9, Carter 1-2 1-2 3, Totals 18-60 8-10 53
NOTRE DAME (22-7): Dodson 3-6 0-1 6, Westbeld 7-12 2-2 17, Citron 5-7 1-1 12, Mabrey 2-8 0-0 5, Miles 7-14 0-2 17, Brunelle 5-9 0-0 14, Peoples 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 29-56 3-6 71
Georgia Tech 11 | 14 | 18 | 10—53
Notre Dame 13 | 21 | 20 | 17—71
3-Point Goals—Georgia Tech 9-24 (Cubaj 0-2, Strautmane 4-8, Lahtinen 2-6, Love 0-1, Bates 3-7), Notre Dame 10-27 (Westbeld 1-3, Citron 1-2, Mabrey 1-7, Miles 3-7, Brunelle 4-8). Assists_Georgia Tech 15 (Cubaj 5, Love 5), Notre Dame 15 (Miles 13). Fouled Out—Notre Dame Westbeld. Rebounds—Georgia Tech 36 (Cubaj 11), Notre Dame 33 (Westbeld 8). Total Fouls—Georgia Tech 12, Notre Dame 14. Technical Fouls—None. A—5,682.