After ACC semifinal loss, Notre Dame women are on pause ahead of NCAA Tournament

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Mar 5, 2022; Greensboro, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld (34) drives on Miami Hurricanes guard Mykea Gray (5) during the fourth quarter at Greensboro Coliseum Complex. Mandatory Credit: William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Now Notre Dame must transition from busy, busy, busy to wait, wait, wait.

It might feel like a long one given their muddled standing.

The Irish fell 57-54 to Cinderella team Miami in Saturday afternoon’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament women’s basketball semifinals at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, capping their body of work for the season in advance of when the NCAA Tournament committee convenes to make its selections.

The Hurricanes went on to fall in Sunday's championship tilt to Third-ranked North Carolina State, 60-47.

The Irish are sure to be in the NCAA field, but far from sure to be among the top 16 teams. Those top 16 get the chance to host during the first two full rounds.

► One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season

►ACC honors:ACC honors for Notre Dame freshmen Citron and Miles indicate bright future or Irish

No. 20-ranked ND (22-8) logged a draining 16 games in 52 days to get to this point, but now must pause for eight days until the pairings are announced after 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 13.

Mar 5, 2022; Greensboro, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Sonia Citron (11) dribbles against Miami Hurricanes forward Lola Pendande (21) during the fourth quarter at Greensboro Coliseum Complex. Mandatory Credit: William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Then it’s at least another five days until they take the court for game action again.

That’s lots of time to digest a woeful beginning and a 9-0 hole that was ultimately too much to overcome against the seventh-seeded Hurricanes.

Miami (20-11) won for the eighth time in its last nine games and held off the third-seeded Irish one day after shocking second seed Louisville 61-59 by scoring the final 17 points of that game.

Dara Mabrey’s contested right-wing 3-pointer clanked off the mark at :03 remaining for ND, wrapping up the Canes’ latest victory.

Sophomore Maddy Westbeld led the Irish with 14 points and nine rebounds. Maya Dodson added 10 points and two blocks, but both players serpentined through foul trouble for a second straight day after ND’s 71-53 win over Georgia Tech on Friday.

Irish freshmen Sonia Citron and Olivia Miles combined for 17 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals.

Top storylines

► Most bracketologists had the Irish as a top 16 in the NCAA Tourney if they could advance to the title game in what’s widely weighed as the nation’s top league, but instead, ND fell to 4-4 over its last four games, including two dreadfully non-competitive losses to No. 4 Louisville and a hiccup at unranked Florida State.

“I’m hoping,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said of whether her team still warrants a top 16. “I’m hoping our résumé speaks to that. That’s definitely not in our control.

“But again, I talk to the group about how far we’ve come this season,” Ivey said of ND springing ahead from 10-10 last winter to putting the program on solid ground for its first NCAA Tourney appearance since 2019.

“(The) growth, maturation has been incredible, and I feel like we put ourselves in an incredible position to host. We have an incredible fan base, so I hope we get that opportunity.”

► ND’s slow start against the Hurricanes at least induced visions of its historically ugly one six days earlier against Louisville — with Ivey heard in an early timeout referencing last Sunday’s game to her team, according to ACC Network — but this time it wasn’t nearly bad enough to keep them from getting back into contention; maybe just bad enough to keep them from winning on a day they were mostly traversing uphill.

The Irish — whose first six possessions resulted in 0-of-6 from the field with four turnovers — fell behind 9-0 in the initial 6:20, and it was presumed to be 12-0 before one Hurricane basket was reviewed at the end of the first quarter and changed to a shot clock violation.

ND still finished the opening period trailing 12-4.

“We got a couple fouls early,” Ivey said of Dodson picking up a pair in the first 3:58 and having to come out. “I thought we were a little bit tentative (before) we finally got a chance to get going. I thought (Miami) came out hot.

“Again, they’re coming off an incredible game last night,” Ivey said, “and I felt like they came in with the same confidence and continued that hot shooting streak.”

ND did not match, despite its crisp 18-point Friday win over Georgia Tech.

“I think in the beginning, we were just kind of sluggish,” Dodson said, “and then I got those two fouls, so that totally changes the trajectory, because I’m usually the one in the center calling (zone reads) out, but we found a way to figure it out and fix it for the next quarters.”

The Irish bounced back in the second period to outscore the Canes 22-14 for a 26-26 halftime deadlock.

In the third quarter, ND grabbed leads at 29-28 and 34-33, but Miami responded to that second deficit with a 12-2 spurt for a 45-36 advantage late in the period.

The Irish took their only fourth-quarter lead at 51-50 on a Westbeld triple at 2:55 remaining, but the Canes scored the next six points to go up 56-51.

Mabrey drained a left-wing 3-pointer at 35 seconds left to draw ND to within 56-54.

Her missed trey at :03 came after Mykea Gray went 1-of-2 at the line for Miami.

► The positive for the Irish now is plenty of time to prepare for the NCAA Tourney, and a far more reasonably spaced schedule during that event than during a league tourney.

ND’s been going with just seven scholarship players ever since Abby Prohaska suffered a facial injury during the team’s Feb. 1 win over No. 3 North Carolina State.

Prohaska was in uniform the last two games, suggesting she’s close to a return, but did not play.

“It’s an opportunity for us to get some rest, recovery and just work on us until we can figure out what the road looks like,” Ivey said of the next week-plus.

“There’s a lot of areas,” the coach said of what can be addressed. “I’m definitely going to dissect and look over and fix the zone and work on our man-to-man, our fundamentals offensively and defensively, but it is a time to reset and lock in and focus on what’s coming up.”

Worth noting

Her mood naturally ecstatic about virtually everything anyway, it was still notable that Miami coach Katie Meier tossed unsolicited high praise at the Irish, and at the nature of Saturday’s contest, right off the top of her postgame presser.

“I love that Notre Dame program,” Meier said. “I love their coaches so much. I love their players. We tried to recruit them all. They’re smart, they’re gutsy, they’re fun-loving.

“I really enjoyed that game,” Meier said. “I love my team and I love my coaching staff, too, so I thought it was a good representation of what college athletics is supposed to be. You’re supposed to be a high-character individual to represent this amazing conference on a stage like that. Your coaching staff is supposed to play by the rules, do things the right way, encourage your players and lift people up, and both staffs do that.

“In my opinion,” Meier continued, “if you just were dropped on Earth and said, ‘What is women’s college basketball all about?’ and you watch that game, that’s what we want it to look like.”

Who's hot

Westbeld against the Hurricanes.

She scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in ND’s 69-53 regular-season home win over Miami on her birthday Feb. 10, so her figures Saturday pushed her two-game totals against the Canes this season to 35 points, 17 rebounds and 13-of-23 from the field, including 6-of-11 on 3-pointers.

Who's not

Sam Brunelle, who dipped to 1-of-5 from the field Saturday just one day after going 5-of-9 with four 3-pointers against Georgia Tech.

Brunelle has been playing with a shoulder harness ever since suffering a Feb. 13 injury against Louisville and has been steadfast in saying she won’t sit because of it.

Up next

Miami, which is in the ACC Tourney title game for the first time in its 18 years in the league, faces top-seeded North Carolina State at noon Sunday for the championship.

The Wolfpack (28-3) will be shooting for a three-peat.

The Canes will be trying to knock off a fourth straight team they lost to during the regular season.

MIAMI (20-11): Harden 2-8 1-2 6, Pendande 2-7 2-2 6, Erjavec 4-6 1-2 10, Marshall 6-14 2-4 18, Williams 2-4 0-0 4, Djaldi-Tabdi 1-3 0-0 2, Mbandu 0-3 0-0 0, Gray 2-5 1-2 6, Johnson Sidi Baba 2-5 1-2 5, Totals 21-55 8-14 57

NOTRE DAME (22-8): Dodson 5-9 0-0 10, Westbeld 5-12 2-4 14, Citron 5-8 0-0 10, Mabrey 2-6 0-0 5, Miles 2-7 2-2 7, Brunelle 1-5 0-0 3, Peoples 2-4 0-0 5, Totals 22-51 4-6 54

Miami | 12 | 14 | 20 | 11—57

Notre Dame | 4 | 22 | 14 | 14—54

3-Point Goals_Miami 7-20 (Harden 1-2, Erjavec 1-3, Marshall 4-11, Mbandu 0-1, Gray 1-3), Notre Dame 6-16 (Westbeld 2-6, Mabrey 1-4, Miles 1-2, Brunelle 1-3, Peoples 1-1). Assists_Miami 12 (Williams 4), Notre Dame 11 (Miles 5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Miami 36 (Harden 7), Notre Dame 31 (Westbeld 9). Total Fouls_Miami 12, Notre Dame 19. Technical Fouls_None. A_7,923.