Notre Dame women fall to Clemson in ACC tourney opener, now await NCAA fate

Anthony Anderson I Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

Now Notre Dame must wait — and for a long time — to learn if its streak of NCAA Tournament women’s basketball appearances ends at 24 in a row.

No. 11 seed Clemson charged from behind to eliminate the sixth-seeded Irish, 68-63, in each team’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opener Thursday night at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.

The Irish dropped to 10-10 heading into the NCAA’s Selection Monday on March 15.

“I can’t control that,” first-year Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said of whether her team has done enough to earn a spot in the 64-team field. “You’d have to call the committee. I can’t answer that.”

“Waiting 11 days will be tough,” freshman forward Maddy Westbeld said after scoring a team-high 21 points, making 10-of-11 shots from the field and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds.

The Irish entered the day as the last team in the field based on ESPN’s projection.

Notre Dame led for most of the game, including by 10 points in both the second and third quarters, but as has happened several times this season, labored to close out with a fourth-period lead.

The Tigers (11-12) — who had lost six straight, but had defeated ND 78-55 on Dec. 20 — outscored the Irish 11-3 down the stretch of the rematch after trailing 60-57 with 4:35 remaining.

“The fourth quarter’s been an area for us that (we’ve) really struggled keeping our composure, and I thought it showed up again today,” Ivey said.

Dazzling freshman Gabby Elliott, on her way to game highs of 25 points and six steals, gave Clemson its first lead since the first quarter with a drive that put the Tigers up 61-60 at 1:27 to go.

Freshman Amirah Abdur-Rahim — who had played no more than a minute in 13 of ND’s previous 14 games — then missed a contested layup at 48 seconds left off a feed from Westbeld.

Abdur-Rahim came in after fellow Irish bigs Sam Brunelle and Mikki Vaughn each fouled out during the final three minutes.

Clemson’s Kendall Spray then hit an off-balance, on the move 3-pointer against the shot clock for a 64-60 lead with 17.7 ticks remaining.

Officials discussed the play, but the basket stood as called.

Replays indicated Spray may not have re-established her left foot on the ground outside the arc after it touched down inside, but Ivey said she was unsure whether doing so is necessary, and added that she was not given an explanation on what the officials were reviewing.

Westbeld closed the gap to 64-63 with a drive and ensuing free throw at 14.4 showing.

Amari Robinson — the daughter of former Irish men’s standout Keith Robinson — hit two free throws at 11.3 left for a 66-63 count.

Dara Mabrey’s 3-point try several feet outside the arc was then off the mark for ND.

A scramble followed for the loose ball, with the whistle at 1.6 seconds remaining, and the Tigers awarded possession on the alternating arrow.

Spray added two more free throws for the final score at 0.8.

“A very frustrating, disappointing loss,” Ivey said. “I felt like we were ready, we were focused; we just didn’t have it for 40 minutes.”

Irish freshman point guard and January enrollee Olivia Miles, delivering a substantial mix of highlights and miscues in just her sixth collegiate appearance, finished with 10 points, a game-high eight assists and a game-high seven turnovers in 30 minutes off the bench.

“I thought Olivia played really well honestly,” Ivey said. “She did turn the ball over uncharacteristically at times, but it’s just something we all have to grow (in) as a team.”

Mabrey also scored 10 points for ND, while Vaughn had nine points and five steals.

The Irish committed 23 turnovers, two off their season high in Sunday’s home loss to Louisville, and the Tigers, who had 17 of their own, pounced on the opportunities, converting them into a 29-6 advantage in points off turnovers.

“We try not to turn the ball over, and in our heads we’re thinking don’t turn the ball over,” Westbeld said, “and I think when that’s conscious in our mind, we just over-think.”

Second-chance points were lopsided in Clemson’s favor as well, 18-4, with the winners hauling in 18 offensive boards to six by Notre Dame.

“On defense, we gotta get a stop, we gotta get boards,” Westbeld said. “We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, and that was huge.”

Spray finished with 13 points and four steals for the Tigers. Delicia Washinton added 11 points and seven assists, and Robinson 10 points and eight rebounds.

“We’re gonna take some time, regroup and then just try to stay ready and control what we can control,” Ivey said of the next week and a half. “We’re gonna get out and work out, have our normal routine after a couple days, and then we’ll see if we have an opportunity to continue playing.”


At Greensboro, N.C.

CLEMSON (11-12): Hayes 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 2-6 6-8 10, Elliott 10-22 4-6 25, Spray 3-13 4-4 13, Washington 3-13 5-6 11, Cherry 0-0 0-0 0, Bennett 0-1 0-0 0, Hank 3-4 0-0 6, Thomas 1-2 0-0 3, Hipp 0-2 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-63 19-24 68

NOTRE DAME (10-10): Westbeld 10-11 1-1 21, Vaughn 4-7 1-1 9, Mabrey 4-14 0-0 10, Peoples 2-4 0-0 4, Walker 3-8 0-0 7, Brunelle 0-1 2-2 2, Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0, Miles 2-6 5-7 10, Abdur-Rahim 0-0 0-0 0, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-51 9-11 63

Clemson 15 16 19 18 — 68

Notre Dame 17 19 18 9 — 63

3-Point Goals—Clemson 5-25 (Robinson 0-1, Elliott 1-5, Spray 3-12, Washington 0-3, Thomas 1-2, Hipp 0-2), Notre Dame 4-14 (Westbeld 0-1, Mabrey 2-7, Walker 1-2, Brunelle 0-1, Miles 1-3). Assists—Clemson 14 (Washington 7), Notre Dame 15 (Miles 8). Fouled Out—Notre Dame Vaughn, Brunelle. Rebounds—Clemson 38 (Robinson 5-8), Notre Dame 34 (Westbeld 2-9). Total Fouls—Clemson 15, Notre Dame 21. Technical Fouls—None. A—451.

Notre Dame’s Mikayla Vaughn (30) tries to pull in the loose ball against Clemson in the first round of the Atlanta Coast Conference women’s tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday.
Notre Dame's Dara Mabrey (1) drives between Clemson's Amari Robinson (5) and Kendall Spray (3) Thursday in the Atlanta Coast Conference women's tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
Clemson’s Delicia Washington (00) pulls in a rebound in front of Notre Dame’s Sam Brunelle (33) Thursday in the Atlanta Coast Conference women’s tournament in Greensboro, N.C.