Women's basketball: Notre Dame steals one over Clemson, literally

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles (5) shoots between Miami guards Ja'Leah Williams (12) and Haley Cavinder (14)during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Rhona Wise)

Notre Dame stole one on the road, and then stole 20 more.

Led by their defense racking up a season-high 21 steals — almost all of them feeling necessary — the No. 7-ranked Irish escaped with a 57-54 women’s college basketball win over Clemson on Thursday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Sophomore guard Olivia Miles, besides nabbing four of the takeaways, contributed game highs of 20 points and eight assists as ND improved to 15-2 overall, 6-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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The Irish moved into a tie for the league lead thanks to No. 13 Duke’s 61-56 loss at No. 17 North Carolina.

“They’re such a gritty team, play with a ton of toughness, so we are obviously happy that we came out with a win,” ND coach Niele Ivey said of holding off the Tigers. “I was really proud of my group as we fought back from some adversity in the first half. I thought in the second half, we really set the tone for ourselves.”

The game was deadlocked 49-49 before Maddy Westbeld put ND ahead for good at 3:48 remaining on a basket off of a Miles steal and feed.

Clemson (12-8, 3-5) had two chances to tie the contest in the final 10 ticks, wrapped around a pair of missed Westbeld free throws, but Daisha Bradford’s right-wing 3-pointer was off the mark, then so was her desperation heave just inside mid-court as time expired.

The Irish, down 29-26 at halftime, trailed by as many as nine points in the second quarter, before leading by a high of 57-51 at 29 seconds to go.

Westbeld finished with 15 points.

Brie Perpigan paced Clemson with 11 points, while Amari Robinson had 10 points and eight rebounds.

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► ND’s 21 steals were four more than its high in its Sweet 16 season last winter and five more than its previous high this season.

On a night she scored a season-low three points and went 1-of-13 from the field, grad student guard Dara Mabrey compensated with a career-high five steals.

Westbeld, Sonia Citron, Lauren Ebo and KK Bransford each added three.

The high steal count was at least partially by design.

“We’ve been really focused on our shifts, our gap defense, having help, creating help within our defense, man or zone,” Ivey said after the Irish utilized both looks. “That has been a focus the last couple weeks and our guards are doing a great job of that. Our help rotation, we’ve been really focusing on scenarios to help us with that, and I thought we just had great individual defense. We got a lot of deflections and came up with some steals, so very proud of that stat line today.”

Clemson finished with 29 turnovers, seven more than the previous high by any ND opponent this season.

The Irish coughed up 17 of their own, yet still decisively ended a streak of six games in which they committed more than the opposition.

► Similar to a recent road loss at North Carolina, the Irish got off to a slow start, but Miles insists she wasn’t too concerned.

The Tigers led 17-8 by the second minute of the second quarter.

“I wasn’t really worried, we weren’t really worried, because they were shooting the ball well, but it was us,” Miles said. “It was controllable from our defense, so we controlled our defense, got back in the game and controlled it at the end.”

Clemson shot 46% from the field in the first half to ND’s 30 and finished at 42% to the visitors’ 32, but the turnover tally was decisive in turning the game.

The Irish scored 21 points off their takeaways, eight more than the Tigers had on theirs.

Further, on a night the turnovers were plentiful and infectious, the player who handled the ball most of all in Miles still closed at just three.

“We were led to me by one of the best point guards in the country,” Ivey said. “I thought Liv was solid from beginning to end. I thought she did a great job of managing the team, but also putting the team on her back.”

► Ivey saluted Mike Brey after the game when asked about the 23rd-year Irish men’s coach.

Notre Dame confirmed earlier in the day that Brey is stepping aside at the end of the season.

Ivey was still a player helping lead the Irish women to the 2001 national title the same season Brey first arrived on campus.

“Mike Brey is somebody I have a high respect for,” Ivey said. “He’s always been super supportive of me as a student-athlete and as a coach.

“I think he’s given so much to the university,” Ivey continued. “I’m thankful for what he’s done for our university and our men’s program. He’s the winningest coach in the (men’s) program. He set the standard and set the bar, so I’ll always have so much love and respect for him.”

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Dec 21, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Kylee Watson (22) goes up for a shot as Western Michigan Broncos forward Abby Voss (14) defends in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps it’s not enough quantity to qualify as scorching hot, but perfection is pretty good, and that’s what Kylee Watson was for the Irish, going 3-of-3 from the field and 2-of-2 at the line for eight points.

On a night nearly every point mattered, Watson secured her best scoring game in her last six outings.

Who's hot

Besides Mabrey going 1-of-13 from the field, Citron, ND’s most efficient offensive player on the season, finished 1-of-8.

Citron netted just two points, six below her previous low, but still added a game-high nine rebounds.

Up next

The Irish play six of their next eight at home, starting with Sunday’s 2 p.m. visit by Virginia and former ND forward Sam Brunelle.

The Cavaliers are 14-5 overall, 3-5 in the ACC.

No. 7 Notre Dame 57, Clemson 54NOTRE DAME (15-2): Watson 3-3 2-2 8, Westbeld 5-11 5-10 15, Citron 1-8 0-1 2, Mabrey 1-13 0-0 3, Miles 7-18 3-4 20, Ebo 1-5 0-0 2, Bransford 2-4 3-4 7, Prosper 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 20-63 13-21 57

CLEMSON (12-8): Robinson 5-12 0-0 10, Hank 2-4 2-2 7, Bradford 2-6 0-0 4, Perpignan 4-9 0-2 11, Whitehorn 2-10 0-0 4, Douglas 2-3 0-0 6, Gaines 1-1 0-0 2, Ott 1-2 0-0 3, Elmore 1-2 0-0 3, Inyang 2-3 0-2 4, Totals 22-52 2-6 54

Notre Dame8181813— 57
Clemson12171510— 54

3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 4-21 (Westbeld 0-1, Citron 0-3, Mabrey 1-8, Miles 3-8, Bransford 0-1), Clemson 8-19 (Robinson 0-2, Hank 1-2, Bradford 0-2, Perpignan 3-5, Whitehorn 0-2, Douglas 2-3, Ott 1-2, Elmore 1-1). Assists_Notre Dame 15 (Miles 8), Clemson 14 (Bradford 5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Notre Dame 37 (Citron 9), Clemson 42 (Robinson 8). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 11, Clemson 18. Technical Fouls_None. A_1,259.