Notre Dame women drop season finale to No. 6 Louisville

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Riding a fickle fence for several weeks now as far as owning a resume worthy of making the NCAA Tournament, turnover-tormented Notre Dame was knocked a little loose of its grip Sunday afternoon with a 78-61 home loss to No. 6-ranked Louisville.

The Cardinals (21-2, 14-2), playing for plenty as well, got the victory they needed to earn their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season outright crown.

Louisville, paced by 26 points and five assists from reigning league player of the year Dana Evans, led from the first basket on, by double digits from early in the second quarter on, 44-28 at halftime and never by less than 14 in the fourth period.

The Irish (10-9, 8-7), who could’ve moved up to a fourth seed and the ACC Tourney’s last double bye with a win, are instead slotted sixth and will face 11th seed Clemson (10-12, 5-12) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

The winner gets No. 3 seed Georgia Tech (14-7, 12-6) at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals.

Sophomore Sam Brunelle led ND against the Cards with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Freshman Olivia Miles flashed more of her distinctive flair in her fifth college contest on the way to 11 points and a game-high six assists, but also had four of Notre Dame’s season-high 25 turnovers.

“The difference was honestly turnovers,” said Brunelle, who had a team-high five. “You take away 10 of those 16 we had at the half, that’s a tie ballgame. It’s just these small things that we really have to clean up, (but) I believe in us as a team and our coaching staff to help us make those adjustments, and we’re just looking forward to moving forward into the tournament.”

The Irish turned the ball over the first five times they had it across the game’s opening 1:56.

“I felt the first five turnovers were just bad decisions,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said, “and then I felt like the rest of the turnovers, Louisville really pressured us. That was something we worked on, handling their pressure. They get up, they overplay the passing lanes, and I thought they made us really uncomfortable. They got us out of our shooting range, got us on our heels.”

The Cardinals, who barely held off visiting ND three weeks ago, 71-65, bounced back crisply after having a week to stew on their upset loss at Florida State.

“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of his program’s second straight outright regular-season crown after sharing the previous two with the Irish. “The regular-season title is the hardest to win. You have to be consistent from top to bottom for eight to 10 weeks.”

“I thought Louisville was fantastic,” Ivey said. “I thought Dana Evans was like she normally plays, player of the year in the ACC. She was phenomenal. I thought they came out ready and focused.”

Evans, a native of nearby Gary, was playing her final regular-season game. She had a large group of family and friends in attendance, and went into the largely vacant stands to hug about a dozen of them after the game.

The Irish used both zone and man-to-man defenses, and in the man, tried at least three different players on Evans.

“She’s just a special player,” Ivey said. “She can create for herself, she can get to the paint, she can shoot the 3, she has deep range, and she has a swag and confidence about her. She’s a go-to player.”

One who had lots of help as well. Elizabeth Dixon added 12 points for the Cardinals on 6-of-7 shooting from the field; Mykasa Robinson 10 points and three steals; Kianna Smith 10 points and five assists; and Hailey Van Lith 10 points.

Freshman Maddy Westbeld, ND’s top scorer on the season at 15.2 points going in, was limited to nine points over 25 minutes while battling foul trouble. Destinee Walker, the team’s No. 2 on the season at 12.1, was held to five.

Louisville shot 32-of-62 from the field with six 3-pointers to go with 8-of-9 at the line. The Irish were 25-of-55 with five to go with 10-of-15. The Cardinals notched 13 fast-break points to ND’s two.

“We gotta play defense for 40 minutes,” Ivey said, “and that’s not something we did today.”

The Irish entered the day projected as the last team making the NCAA Tournament by ESPN. A win over Louisville would’ve likely assured them a spot barring a disastrous opening loss in the ACC Tourney.

Instead, their position becomes more tenuous now, and in the Tigers, they’ll face the team that handled them their most lopsided loss all season, 78-55 on Dec. 20 in Clemson, S.C.

Since that game, though, the Irish have gone 7-5 and the Tigers 2-11.

LOUISVILLE (21-2): Cochran 4-6 0-0 8, Balogun 0-1 0-0 0, Evans 9-18 6-7 26, Ahlana Smith 1-2 0-0 2, Van Lith 3-13 2-2 10, Dixon 6-7 0-0 12, Konno 0-2 0-0 0, Robinson 5-5 0-0 10, Kianna Smith 4-8 0-0 10, Russell 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 32-62 8-9 78

NOTRE DAME (10-9): Westbeld 4-10 1-1 9, Vaughn 2-2 0-0 4, Mabrey 2-4 2-2 8, Peoples 3-9 0-2 7, Walker 1-4 2-2 5, Brunelle 6-10 0-0 13, Gilbert 2-6 0-0 4, Miles 5-10 1-3 11, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-55 6-10 61

Louisville 28 16 15 19 — 78

Notre Dame 18 10 17 16 — 61

3-Point Goals_Louisville 6-21 (Cochran 0-1, Balogun 0-1, Evans 2-7, Van Lith 2-5, Konno 0-2, Smith 2-5), Notre Dame 5-15 (Westbeld 0-1, Mabrey 2-4, Peoples 1-2, Walker 1-2, Brunelle 1-3, Gilbert 0-1, Miles 0-2). Assists_Louisville 16 (Evans 5), Notre Dame 13 (Miles 6). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Louisville 28 (Van Lith 2-4), Notre Dame 35 (Peoples 2-7). Total Fouls_Louisville 14, Notre Dame 18. Technical Fouls_None. A_126.

Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles (25) drives is fouled by Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith Sunday at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend
Notre Dame’s Anaya Peoples (21) drives to the basket as Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith (10) defends Sunday at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend.