Women's basketball: Finding balance, Notre Dame nets biggest win of the season over Tar Heels

By Anthony Anderson
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Fueled by Dara Mabrey’s season-high 24 points, by Maya Dodson’s authoritative blocks, by a season-high home crowd and much more, No. 20 Notre Dame jetted to its most impressive win of the women’s basketball season Sunday afternoon, rallying to knock off No. 21 North Carolina, 70-65.

“To see us play that way collectively, I thought it was an incredible, balanced attack against a really great North Carolina team,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It was such a fun environment and a huge win for us.”

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Attendance at Purcell Pavilion was listed at 5,905, blowing by the previous season high of 4,983.

ND, which improved to 1-3 against currently ranked teams, was at home for the first time in 28 days, and the extra voltage delivered by the crowd was felt.

“We’ll be kind of messing up a little bit, and then we get one good play, and they’re going bananas,” Dodson said, “and then we’re like, ‘We can do this,’ so it’s wonderful. I love these fans. It’s been a great time just playing here my first year.”

The grad transfer from Stanford scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds to go with a game-high four blocked shots as the Irish moved to 13-3 overall, 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 7-0 at Purcell.

The Tar Heels dropped to 14-2 overall, 4-2 in the league, their only other loss coming at No. 5 North Carolina State.

At least one of Dodson’s blocks proved scintillating, and it was one of an assortment of pivotal plays by ND in the fourth quarter.

Jan 16, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dara Mabrey (1) celebrates with forward Maya Dodson (0) in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

On it, she trailed the Heels’ Alyssa Ustby in transition, but not only did Dodson get the block from behind with a mighty swing, but knocked it off Ustby, as the Carolina player was landing out of bounds.

“I was like, I need to go a little harder and get this stop,” Dodson said. “We’ve been working a lot on fourth quarters, just digging deep and playing great defense, and that was just just one play of many we did in this fourth quarter.”

Trailing by a high of 30-21 midway through the second period, the Irish closed to 34-33 by halftime.

Then they showed out in the third quarter — as they have all season.

ND, in fact, has been absurd in the third.

The Irish outscored Carolina 21-14 in this third for a 54-48 lead entering the final period.

It was the 15th time in 16 games this season that ND has outtallied the opposition in the penultimate quarter, the lone exception a harmless, break-even 12-12 during a 71-56 win over Fordham.

“I credit our staff for the halftime adjustments,” Mabrey said. “They have great halftime adjustments, and it was really evident (today), especially in the four-minute stretch to start the third.”

Jan 16, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dara Mabrey (1) dribbles as North Carolina Tar Heels guard Carlie Littlefield (2) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

A 10-0 ND spree during that time spun a 37-33 deficit into a 43-37 lead. The spread swelled to a high of 50-39 at the 4:50 mark of the period.

In the fourth quarter, the Heels got as close as 56-55 at 7:44 remaining, but Mabrey answered that with a right-corner 3-pointer, igniting a 12-3 run that put ND ahead 68-58 with 2:43 to go. Carolina got no closer than the final count.

Mabrey’s 24 points gave her 46 over her last two games. She finished with a season-high six 3-pointers on 13 attempts to go with 2-of-3 inside the arc, and she blended in three steals.

The senior also became the floor general when freshman point guard Olivia Miles was out for a couple long stretches after picking up three first-half fouls.

Ivey called Mabrey’s ongoing preparation for games that of “a gym rat” and labeled Sunday’s performance “phenomenal.”

“She does so much for our team,” Ivey said. “She’s the heart and soul of our group. She’s always the one bringing the energy.”

Freshman Sonia Citron scored 12 points in 24 minutes off the bench for the Irish and matched her season high with 10 rebounds.

Jan 16, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Anya Poole (31) blocks the shot attempt by Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Sonia Citron (11) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Maddy Westbeld scored nine of her 11 points in the second half.

Miles finished with seven points, a game-high eight assists and six rebounds in 27 minutes.

“I think the biggest thing to highlight about Olivia is she’s so young and yet she adjusted to (the foul trouble) so well,” Mabrey said of her teammate, who never picked up her fourth foul in 15 second-half minutes.

For the Heels, Deja Kelly notched 22 points and five assists. Ustby added 15 points and Kennedy Todd-Williams 13, while Anya Poole grabbed 12 rebounds.

The Irish now embark on three straight road games, beginning with Boston College Thursday, followed by Pittsburgh next Sunday, then a makeup contest two days later at Virginia.

Worth noting

The Irish saluted Trena Keys, the program’s first-ever scholarship Black player in 1982, by wearing warm-ups dedicated to her.

The white tops featured Keys’ No. 13 in gold on both sides, her name in blue on the back and “Notre Dame” in gold on the front.

Keys — exactly matching that uniform — remains the No. 13 scorer in ND history with 1,589 points.

Originally from Marion, she was the North Star Conference player of the year in 1985 and 1986 to cap her junior and senior seasons with the Irish.

A member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, Keys led the team in blocked shots in all four of her ND seasons.

The recognition occurred on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, no coincidence.

“Martin Luther King weekend for me is always super exciting,” Ivey said. “It’s exciting to honor his legacy.”

Also Sunday, more than a dozen faculty and staff members from a wide range of departments at the university were recognized at halftime as individuals who have “made continuous efforts to help make Notre Dame a more welcoming and inclusive community.”

No. 20 NOTRE DAME 70, No. 21 NORTH CAROLINA 65

NORTH CAROLINA (14-2): Poole 2-4 0-0 4, Kelly 7-21 4-4 22, Littlefield 3-7 0-0 9, Todd-Williams 5-10 2-2 13, Ustby 7-20 1-2 15, Adams 0-1 0-0 0, Wiggins 0-1 0-0 0, Zelaya 1-3 0-0 2, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-67 7-8 65

NOTRE DAME (13-3): Dodson 3-10 4-6 10, Westbeld 5-12 1-2 11, Mabrey 8-16 2-2 24, Miles 3-6 0-2 7, Peoples 0-2 3-4 3, Brunelle 1-5 1-2 3, Citron 2-8 6-6 12, Team 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-59 17-24 70

North Carolina 22 | 12 | 14 | 17— 65

Notre Dame 15 | 18 | 21 | 16 — 70

3-Point Goals—North Carolina 8-23 (Kelly 4-9, Littlefield 3-7, Todd-Williams 1-4, Ustby 0-2, Wiggins 0-1), Notre Dame 9-23 (Mabrey 6-13, Miles 1-3, Brunelle 0-3, Citron 2-4). Assists—North Carolina 18 (Kelly 5), Notre Dame 18 (Miles 8). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—North Carolina 45 (Team 6-7), Notre Dame 37 (Dodson 5-11). Total Fouls—North Carolina 20, Notre Dame 9. Technical Fouls—None. A—5,905.