Notre Dame women's basketball fire starting gun, whip Northern Illinois

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Triggered by the assertive early play of All-American hopeful Olivia Miles, and by a hounding man-to-man defense that helped trigger the team’s offense, Notre Dame fired the starting gun on its women’s basketball season with an 88-48 whipping of Northern Illinois on Monday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Tallying 10 points, Miles outscored the Huskies by one during the opening quarter to pace the Irish to a 19-9 lead that steadily ballooned throughout the evening.

Miles finished with all game highs of 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and six steals, that last figure matching a career high, as 2,545 fans looked on.

Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles (5) pushes the ball up court during the Northern Illinois-Notre Dame NCAA Women’s basketball game on Monday, November 07, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

Sharpshooter Dara Mabrey added 13 of her 16 points in the second half and closed at 4-of-8 on 3-pointers. Junior forward Maddy Westbeld chipped in 13 points, eight rebounds and four of the winners’ nine blocked shots.

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“I was really excited, really pleased with our effort,” ND coach Niele Ivey said. “Great contributions from so many different weapons on our team.”

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► Miles quickly set the vibe for her team’s dominating night, and ironically, the nation’s runner-up in assists a season ago did so without dealing any assists during the opening quarter.

“I actually didn’t see much from a passing standpoint,” said Miles, who attributed that to the Huskies’ solid scouting. “I feel like my lanes weren’t as open as they usually are. That’s why I was kind of more aggressive to the hoop.”

The sophomore started ND’s scoring with a left-wing 3-pointer, then added seven more points in the first period.

“Her pace was amazing,” Ivey said of Miles’ early play. “Electric in transition. She had the crowd going with her passes and finishes. It was great, and I feel like when we start that way, when we set the tone with our pace and our defense, we (can) take things out right from the beginning.”

► The Irish, coming off utilizing primarily a 2-3 zone defense during Ivey’s first two seasons, went with man-to-man virtually throughout their opener, and if the coach has her way, that trend will continue.

“I want to be more aggressive, I want to play man-to-man, and I feel like we have the pieces to do that,” said Ivey, adding that zone at a minimum will remain an option to “kind of change the rhythm.”

Notre Dame piled up 16 steals, those takeaways often leading to transition buckets on a night the Irish outscored Northern 17-2 in fast-break points. Overall, the hosts picked up 23 points off the Huskies’ 22 turnovers, while NIU picked up just two off ND’s eight.

“More pride individually,” Ivey said of what is affording the Irish the chance to feature man. “Everybody’s working on being a better on-ball defender, and we’ve really talked a lot and worked a lot with our help rotation. … We’re switching a little bit more, so I think that’s throwing teams off, which is great, because that just creates more pressure on the ball.”

► Post players Kylee Watson and Lauren Ebo flashed performances in their regular-season Irish debuts that not only verified they’ll be meaningful contributors, but that suggested the two 6-foot-4 transfers will have no problem contributing while on the court at the same time.

Watson, a junior transfer from Oregon, got the start alongside returning starters Miles, Westbeld, Mabrey and Sonia Citron. She finished with nine points, four assists, two blocks and two steals in 25 minutes.

Ebo, a grad student transfer from Texas, added 10 points, six rebounds and a block in 21 minutes.

The two were on the floor together early and hooked up almost immediately on a pretty high-low feed from Watson to Ebo for a bucket at the 4:26 mark of the opening quarter for a 13-7 ND lead.

“I think one of the really cool things about this team is how close we are off the court,” Watson said. “I know that was something we had to work on early in the year just coming in with so many new players. We had to get to know how each other plays and reading each other, but right now, we’re really starting to click.”

Worth noting

► Citron, the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year, contributed nine rebounds and eight points as the Irish won their 28th straight home opener.

► Junior forward Nat Marshall — who missed the last two months of last season with a medial meniscus tear in her knee after missing all of 2020-21 rehabbing a torn ACL — scored nine points, two off her career high, in just 11 minutes. Seven of those points and seven of those minutes came in the fourth quarter.

► KK Bransford, ND’s lone freshman, premiered with six points and three assists over 19 minutes. Bransford is a two-time Ohio Ms. Basketball and expected to secure a key role quickly.

► Jenna Brown, a grad transfer from Stanford who missed all of the last two-plus seasons while recovering from a knee injury, appeared in her first game that counts in 995 days. She did not score in nine minutes, but had two assists and two rebounds. Brown last played Feb. 16, 2020.

► Notre Dame doubled up the Huskies on points in the paint, 50-25, although Northern outrebounded the Irish 45-43, including 18-11 in offensive boards. NIU had plenty more chances at such rebounds, going 19-of-69 from the field (27.5%) to ND’s 34-of-71 (47.9%).

Up next

The Irish head to St. Louis to take on California (1-0) in the inaugural Citi Shamrock Classic at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Ivey and fourth-year Golden Bears head coach Charmin Smith are both St. Louis natives and will be leading teams in their childhood town for the first time.

It’ll also be the first-ever women’s college basketball game televised live by NBC.

No. 9 Notre Dame 88, N. Illinois 48N. ILLINOIS (0-1): Carter 0-4 0-0 0, Davis 3-11 3-4 9, Nickel 1-5 0-0 3, Koker 2-11 2-2 6, Marable 5-8 0-0 11, Stauffacher 0-7 0-0 0, Hodges-Johnson 0-1 0-0 0, Hunter 0-0 0-0 0, Poisson 6-14 0-0 14, McCrea 1-3 0-0 3, Meinert 1-5 0-0 2, Prewitt 0-0 0-0 0, Stonebraker 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 19-69 5-6 48NOTRE DAME (1-0): Watson 4-7 1-2 9, Westbeld 6-10 0-0 13, Citron 4-9 0-0 8, Mabrey 6-12 0-0 16, Miles 5-14 6-7 17, Ebo 4-8 2-2 10, Bransford 2-5 2-2 6, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Cha 0-0 0-0 0, Marshall 3-5 3-4 9, Totals 34-71 14-17 88N. Illinois 9 15 10 14 — 48Notre Dame 19 22 27 20 — 883-Point Goals_N. Illinois 5-17 (Carter 0-2, Nickel 1-1, Marable 1-1, Stauffacher 0-3, Poisson 2-7, McCrea 1-3), Notre Dame 6-16 (Westbeld 1-1, Citron 0-2, Mabrey 4-8, Miles 1-4, Bransford 0-1). Assists_N. Illinois 8 (Davis 2), Notre Dame 22 (Miles 6). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_N. Illinois 45 (Davis 8), Notre Dame 43 (Miles 10). Total Fouls_N. Illinois 13, Notre Dame 8. Technical Fouls_None. A_2,545.