Watson, Marshall help No. 9 Notre Dame survive Cal comeback

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame forward Kylee Watson (22) drives to the basket for a shot during the Truman State-Notre Dame NCAA Women’s basketball game on Monday, October 31, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

With Notre Dame stars Olivia Miles and Maddy Westbeld both parked on the bench in foul trouble for more than half the fourth quarter, and with newcomer Kylee Watson and relatively raw Nat Marshall among those helping their team counter the dicey circumstances, the No. 9-ranked Irish survived California’s comeback efforts for a 90-79 women’s college basketball win Saturday evening in St. Louis.

Dubbed the inaugural Shamrock Classic, the contest marked the return of ND coach Niele Ivey to her hometown, and to the arena where she helped lead the Irish to their first national title as the team’s star point guard in 2001.

With an exceedingly balanced attack — Dara Mabrey 16 points, Watson 15, Sonia Citron 14, Miles 13, Westbeld 12, Marshall nine and Lauren Ebo eight — ND improved to 2-0.

Notre Dame women's recruiting class starts with Emma Risch. Will there be more?

“Super excited we found a way to win that game,” Ivey said. “A lot of adversity, but also a lot of great things happened tonight.”

Top storylines

► During a 59-whistle foul fest in which the Irish got the worst of it as far as meaningful players impacted, Notre Dame held on despite Westbeld and Miles missing second-half stretches of eight and six minutes, respectively, and despite two of their teammates, Mabrey and Ebo, fouling out late after navigating those concerns as well.

The key for ND: breaking better than even during the first 5:30 of the fourth quarter with Miles and Westbeld both sitting.

Across that duration, the Irish turned a 62-55 lead into 72-64.

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey comes 'full-circle' with coaching return to native St. Louis

Not only that, but they steadied themselves after the Bears (1-1), who had trailed by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter, got as close as 62-59 and 65-62 early in the fourth.

Marshall, virtually devoid of prior crunch-time collegiate experience, and freshman KK Bransford, entirely devoid of it, joined Watson, Mabrey and Citron on the floor over that critical stretch.

With both playing assertively, Bransford hit two free throws for a 65-59 spread, while Marshall tallied on a smooth slide-step 10-footer for the 72-64 count.

“I always talk to the team about how with this shorter roster, everyone matters and just to be ready when your time comes, and how much I value each and every person,” Ivey said, “and I’m just really proud of Natalija and KK coming in and really helping us, being a spark.”

While preseason All-American Miles was sitting, Mabrey shifted to point-guard responsibilities.

“I always wish I could be on the floor playing and controlling the game, but I know other people can step up in the moment, and I trust my teammates to do so,” said Miles, who dealt 10 assists and committed five turnovers. “There was never a moment that I was like nervous. I knew Dara was going to take control, and she did a great job of that, but I was itching to go on the floor.”

Once Miles and Westbeld did return, the Irish began to pull further away.

With some of it coming by virtue of Cal having to foul late, Notre Dame hit 20-of-24 free throws in the fourth quarter. The Irish also committed just three turnovers in the period, after coughing up 20 over the first three quarters.

► Watson, Notre Dame’s newest starter alongside the four back from last season, turned in a showing worthy of the role.

The junior transfer from Oregon went 6-of-8 from the field to accompany 3-of-5 at the line for her 15 points, and she added a game-high seven rebounds.

An agile 6-foot-4 forward, Watson excelled in transition, caught the ball in traffic and riddled the Bears with her inside moves.

She also appeared a settling influence in the fourth quarter, reminding teammates who were whistled for iffy fouls that “it wasn’t worth wasting energy on stuff that had already been called.”

“I was trying to keep the energy high,” Watson said, “and at the same time also maintain a level of calmness.”

Watson’s 15 points were the second-highest output of her career, and her highest in a competitive game. She had 21 for the Ducks in a 109-38 win over McNeese State in December 2021.

► Ivey soaked in her homecoming, and her players soaked in being witness to it.

“It was surreal,” said Ivey, who before this weekend had not been in the Enterprise Center since winning the national title in the same building. “I remember every moment of playing here 20-plus years ago. I actually ran on the court like I did (then). I was like, this is where we ran, where we celebrated. … It was so incredible, even the shootaround, just to be here.”

Dozens of Ivey’s family and friends were among the 4,212 in attendance Saturday.

The coach and her players had returned to her high school alma mater, Cor Jesu Academy, for a practice and more on Friday. The current student body attended the festivities along with former administrators and teachers who surprised Ivey.

Other activities Friday included a Boys & Girls Club visit and a luncheon.

“It’s a home trip for Coach Ivey, but it felt like a home trip for all of us just the way they supported both her and Notre Dame,” Miles said. “It was crazy to walk into that high school, and when all the kids came in, the amount of energy was something I never even expected.”

Who's hot

Notre Dame forward Natalija Marshall (15) shoots the ball during the Truman State-Notre Dame NCAA Women’s basketball game on Monday, October 31, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Indiana.

Marshall — after missing all of her freshman season recovering from a high school knee injury and the final two-plus months of last season due to additional knee surgery — has proven reliable and efficient for the Irish over their first two games this season.

Marshall’s nine points against Cal, featuring 4-of-5 shooting from the field, and her career-high six rebounds came in just 15 minutes.

The effort followed nine points as well in just 11 minutes during ND’s season-opening 88-48 win over Northern Illinois.

Who's not

Maybe Bransford, but come on, these are her first two college games.

Bransford’s 0-of-3 shooting from the field Saturday left her 2-of-8 overall, though she has added 5-of-6 at the line across 37 minutes through the two contests.

She’s also contributed four assists while committing just one turnover.

Up next

The Irish play their first true road game Wednesday when they visit Northwestern. Tip is slated for 9 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network.

No. 9 Notre Dame 90, California 79CALIFORNIA (1-1): Lutje Schipholt 1-4 4-6 6, Tuitele 3-6 0-0 6, Curry 8-23 4-7 24, Martin 3-6 1-2 9, McIntosh 2-9 2-4 6, Bush 2-3 1-1 5, Langarita 2-3 0-0 4, Onyiah 2-4 0-0 4, Heide 0-0 0-0 0, Bonner 0-0 0-0 0, Mastrov 2-4 4-4 10, Muca 1-1 0-0 3, Ortiz 1-1 0-0 2, Stevens 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 27-64 16-24 79NOTRE DAME (2-0): Watson 6-8 3-5 15, Westbeld 4-6 2-2 12, Citron 4-9 6-6 14, Mabrey 4-9 6-8 16, Miles 4-10 3-4 13, Ebo 1-2 6-6 8, Bransford 0-3 3-4 3, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Marshall 4-5 1-1 9, Totals 27-52 30-36 90California 22 15 18 24 — 79Notre Dame 31 15 16 28 — 903-Point Goals_California 9-22 (Tuitele 0-1, Curry 4-9, Martin 2-3, McIntosh 0-3, Langarita 0-1, Mastrov 2-4, Muca 1-1), Notre Dame 6-14 (Westbeld 2-2, Citron 0-2, Mabrey 2-6, Miles 2-4). Assists_California 17 (Curry 5, McIntosh 5), Notre Dame 18 (Miles 10). Fouled Out_California Onyiah, Notre Dame Mabrey, Ebo. Rebounds_California 26 (Lutje Schipholt 6), Notre Dame 42 (Watson 7). Total Fouls_California 31, Notre Dame 28. Technical Fouls_California Curry 1, Notre Dame Mabrey 1. A_4,212.