Notre Dame had it, then it didn't as top-seeded N.C. State knocks off Irish in Sweet 16

By Anthony Anderson
ND Insider

Notre Dame’s overall youth and North Carolina State’s overall experience seemed to collide in the final minutes as the Wolfpack rallied late to stun the Irish, 66-63, in Saturday afternoon’s NCAA Tournament women’s basketball Sweet 16 matchup at Bridgeport, Conn.

A gloriously steep rebound season by ND, from 10-10 last winter, ended at 24-9.

Top-seeded NC State improved to 32-3, avenged a 69-66 regular-season loss to the Irish and advanced to its first Elite Eight since 1998.

“Really, really hard going through this scenario,” second-year Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said, “but I’m super proud of my team. I’m so proud of them coming from last year, not making the tournament, to being one possession away from going to the Elite Eight, and I talked to them about it in the locker room.

“We have come so far,” Ivey said, “and the growth, maturity of this team the entire season, the belief, the buy-in, I could not ask for a more special group. … But again, this hits hard. It’s going to take a long time to recover.”

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

The Wolfpack came at the fifth-seeded Irish with four senior starters, three of them of the fifth-year variety and the other an All-American in Elissa Cunane, plus a junior, while ND featured two freshmen and a sophomore among its first five.

“Can’t say enough about Notre Dame — man are they gonna be good for a while, a lot of young players that are really tough,” NC State coach Wes Moore said. “We were fortunate there, (but) we had some unbelievable plays down the stretch to win the game, and that’s what they’ve done their whole careers here.”

Mar 26, 2022; Bridgeport, CT, USA; The NC State Wolfpack celebrate defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Webster Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Pack’s Raina Perez stole the ball from ND’s Dara Mabrey high in the Irish forecourt and converted it into a layup with 14.8 second remaining to give NC State its first lead, 64-63, since early in the second quarter.

Notre Dame’s Maddy Westbeld then missed an open 3-pointer with four seconds left.

Perez secured the rebound, was fouled with 1.5 ticks remaining and sank both free throws for the final count.

The Irish, because they were out of timeouts, had to inbound from their own baseline.

Sonia Citron’s heave from about 65 feet was both tardy and off the mark.

North Carolina State guard Raina Perez (2) goes to the basket for a shot against Notre Dame to put her team up by one point late in the fourth quarter of a college basketball game in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA women's tournament, Saturday, March 26, 2022, in Bridgeport, Conn. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

State outscored ND 15-4 over the final 5:53, erasing a 59-51 deficit for the win.

The Irish led by 10 points on four occasions, the last at 51-41 with two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

In the fourth period, though, ND committed seven of its 16 turnovers on the day, while NC State coughed up four of its 10.

Perez and Kai Crutchfield snagged four steals apiece for the winners.

Jersey girls:Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles coming up big for Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

Crutchfield, who also scored 14 points, made three of her takeaways in the closing quarter and Perez two of hers, capped by that one against Mabrey.

“She turned her back, the ball was still stuck on her hip and so I went for it, got the steal and made the layup,” Perez said.

“As seniors, as a fifth-year senior (myself), we were determined to get over that hump,” said Crutchfield, whose team was in the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year, and won one of those games for the first time. “We wanted it more, we did the best we could and we came out on top.”

Mar 26, 2022; Bridgeport, CT, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Niele Ivey talks with guard Olivia Miles (5) from the sideline as they take on the NC State Wolfpack in the first half at Webster Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Slick Irish freshman point guard Olivia Miles notched game highs of 21 points and six assists, converting an assortment of high-traffic layups in addition to draining a trio of 3-pointers.

She also committed four turnovers and was hard on herself afterwards.

“They started pressuring us full court and I could’ve done a way better job of getting my team organized,” Miles said of the fourth period. “I was kind of quiet because I was trying to figure it out for myself … and that caused some of our turnovers and I take the blame for that.”

Westbeld, a sophomore, scored 13 points for ND to go with team highs of eight rebounds and three steals, but also gave up a game-high five turnovers.

Mar 26, 2022; Bridgeport, CT, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld (34) reacts after being defeated by the NC State Wolfpack at Webster Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Mabrey scored all of her nine points in the first half, but was noticeably a defensive focus of the Pack in the second half and took just one shot over the final two quarters.

Cunane paced N.C. State with 16 points and all players with 10 rebounds.

In the first meeting against the Irish, she got into foul trouble and was distinctly outplayed by ND post Maya Dodson (20 points, 10 rebounds), but this time around, Dodson got into foul trouble.

She committed her second foul at the 3:55 mark of the opening quarter and sat out the rest of the first half, though the Irish adjusted well without her, especially with junior Anaya Peoples (six points, four rebounds, two blocks) picking up some of the interior slack off the bench.

Dodson returned in the second half to collect all of her six points, four rebounds and three blocks.

Mar 26, 2022; Bridgeport, CT, USA; NC State Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane (33) drives the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld (34) in the first half at Webster Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The grad transfer from Stanford may be back next season as well after putting in the paperwork requesting another year through the NCAA.

“Excited for the future,” Ivey said, referencing her two starting freshmen and a sophomore, and adding that “I have an incredible addition coming in next year” in two-time Ohio Ms. Basketball KK Bransford.

“No one kind of thought that we’d do this,” Miles said of the progress the Irish made this winter. “Coming from a team that didn’t make the tournament last year and going through a lot of adversity with COVID and injuries to players, it’s just incredible to see what we’ve done.”

Said Miles of the season finale, “I’m sure we’re going to remember this feeling, like we remembered the feeling last year, and come back and go even farther.”

N.C. STATE 66, NOTRE DAME 63

NOTRE DAME (24-9): Dodson 3-5 0-0 6, Westbeld 6-12 0-0 13, Citron 2-6 4-5 8, Mabrey 4-7 0-0 9, Miles 9-19 0-0 21, Brunelle 0-0 0-0 0, Peoples 3-4 0-0 6, Prohaska 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-53 4-5 63

NC STATE (32-3): Jones 3-6 0-0 7, Cunane 5-10 6-7 16, Brown-Turner 4-11 1-2 9, Crutchfield 5-10 2-3 14, Perez 2-9 2-2 7, Boyd 4-6 0-0 8, Hobby 0-1 0-0 0, Johnson 2-9 0-0 5, Totals 25-62 11-14 66

Notre Dame 12 | 26 | 15 | 10—63

NC State 16 | 14 | 16 | 20—66

3-Point Goals—Notre Dame 5-17 (Westbeld 1-4, Mabrey 1-3, Miles 3-10), NC State 5-18 (Jones 1-2, Brown-Turner 0-3, Crutchfield 2-4, Perez 1-4, Johnson 1-5). Assists—Notre Dame 9 (Miles 6), NC State 9 (Johnson 4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Notre Dame 31 (Westbeld 8), NC State 32 (Cunane 10). Total Fouls—Notre Dame 14, NC State 5. Technical Fouls—None.