Olivia Miles saves the day as shorthanded Notre Dame staves off last-placed Pittsburgh

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Magical maestro Olivia Miles reorchestrated what would’ve been a cacophony of a loss into beautiful music down the stretch as Notre Dame rallied to escape basement-dwelling Pittsburgh, 69-63, in women’s basketball Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion.

Miles assisted on seven of her team’s nine fourth-quarter field goals and added one of the other two buckets off her own steal as the Irish prevailed after trailing 50-47 at nine minutes to go.

Fellow sophomore guard Sonia Citron struck for game highs of 20 points, three steals and three blocked shots as No. 10-ranked ND improved to 19-4 overall, 10-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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With No. 19 Florida State’s 86-82 loss at Miami, the Irish moved into sole possession of second place in the league, a game behind No. 9 Duke (11-2), but also just a game ahead of four clubs.

Maddy Westbeld and Miles each notched double-doubles, the former scoring 17 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds, while the latter finished at a game-high 13 assists to accompany 11 points.

Despite Lauren Ebo, its No. 2 rebounder on the season, missing a fourth straight game, unrelenting ND fought its way to 18 offensive boards against Pitt’s six, and outscored the visitors 25-8 on multi-chance points.

Dayshanette Harris paced the pesky Panthers (8-16, 1-12), the ACC’s last-place club, with 20 points.

Feb 9, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Olivia Miles (5) is fouled by Pittsburgh Panthers forward Gabby Hutcherson (22) in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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► Several of Miles’ fourth-quarter finds were of the crowd-oohing, arguably peerless variety, setting the Irish up for 22 points in the period.

There was the long lob to the other side of the court, the bullet through traffic, the drive and perfect dish, the seemingly single-motion catch-and-fire to the wing upon receiving an inside-outside pass out top, and more.

“I mean, it’s great,” Citron said of how Miles often delivers her feeds right to the shooting pocket with her teammate in rhythm. “Liv always finds a way to get us the ball when we’re open. I think that’s one of the reasons she’s the (nation’s) best point guard. She’ll always find you when you’re open.”

Miles’ 13 assists were one off her career high. She added seven rebounds and a pair of steals against three turnovers.

“I feel like I’ve gotten so familiar and so comfortable with my teammates, and I kind of know where they’re gonna be, especially when (opponents) play zone,” Miles said of what’s going into her passing prowess. “I figure out the gaps and where I can throw the ball. I made a couple risky passes, which I’ll clean up, but I’m blessed to be as great a passer as I am.”

Though she’s come close on a few occasions, Miles played all 40 minutes for the first time in her career, while Citron logged nearly 38 minutes as ND continued to navigate the absence of Ebo and the likewise recent season-ending injury to Dara Mabrey.

“I’m relying on them a lot,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “Obviously, they’re playing heavy minutes and it’s a big load that they’re carrying, so I’m really proud of them.”

Feb 9, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Niele Ivey watches in the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

► While ND got untracked with its field goal shooting in the fourth quarter at 9-of-13 (69%) — after standing just 16-of-43 (37%) through three periods — what was present throughout the game was the team’s effort on the offensive boards.

“That’s the first thing I noticed was the offensive rebounds,” Ivey said of looking at the postgame stat sheet and seeing 18 for the Irish. “Maddy had five, Cass (Prosper) had five, Kylee had three. Those were huge. Not having Ebo, we needed everybody to do a little bit more, especially in the rebounding category. … We needed all those rebounds.”

ND’s 18 offensive boards doubled the number the team secured during its 57-52 loss Sunday to Duke.

► Prosper, ND’s early enrollee, bounced right back from a rough outing against the Blue Devils (1-of-8 shooting for two points in 29 minutes) to tally eight points, grab six rebounds and go 3-of-6 from the field with a 3-pointer in 22 minutes against Pitt, while junior forward Nat Marshall added some pivotal plays off the bench as well over 16 minutes.

Ivey called the charging foul that Marshall coaxed on Harris with the Irish leading 60-57 at 4:53 remaining “the play of the game.”

It came near the start of a 9-2 run as ND expanded a 58-57 lead at six minutes to go into a 67-59 advantage at 51 seconds left.

“It’s just great to see our bench step up and play some big minutes,” Ivey said.

“Cass came in and gave us some really great minutes,” Ivey assessed, “and Natalija … I thought she was just really solid defensively. She has a great motor. Her size, her athleticism, it really helped us on the boards. She got a couple 50-50 balls. She just did a lot of the little things we needed.”

Feb 9, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Cassandre Prosper (4) dribbles in the second half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Worth noting

For the first time in the four games she’s been sidelined, Ebo was not wearing a walking boot on her right foot.

“Definitely (have made) progress,” Ivey said of Ebo’s recovery from the lower body issue the grad student center is facing.

The coach, though, said there’s still no certain timeline for Ebo’s return.

Who's hot

Citron is averaging 17.8 points over her last six games to go with 16-of-33 on 3-pointers. She was 3-of-8 outside the arc against the Panthers.

Feb 9, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Sonia Citron (11) catches a pass as Pittsburgh Panthers guard Dayshanette Harris (1) defends in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Who's not

The Irish, a 72.4% team from the line going into the game, followed up their 7-of-14 showing against Duke with a 13-of-24 display against Pitt.

More:Notre Dame men's lacrosse has sights back on reaching NCAA Tournament

Up next

The Irish welcome Syracuse (16-9, 7-7) to Purcell at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The host Orange scored a 75-67 win over No. 14 North Carolina on Thursday.

Visiting ND downed Syracuse 72-56 on Jan. 15.

No. 10 Notre Dame 69, Pittsburgh 63

PITTSBURGH (8-16): Brown 2-4 3-3 7, Hutcherson 4-7 0-0 10, Johnson 2-5 2-2 6, Hayford 2-4 0-0 4, Washenitz 0-3 0-0 0, Strickland 1-1 0-0 3, Exanor 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 6-8 7-8 20, King 3-10 2-3 8, Lewis 2-4 0-0 5, Malcolm 0-0 0-0 0, Strother 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 22-50 14-16 63

NOTRE DAME (19-4): Watson 2-3 1-7 5, Westbeld 7-13 2-3 17, Bransford 2-6 4-5 8, Citron 7-15 3-4 20, Miles 4-14 2-3 11, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Prosper 3-6 1-2 8, Marshall 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 25-58 13-24 69

Notre Dame1320142269

3-Point Goals—Pittsburgh 5-14 (Hutcherson 2-4, Johnson 0-2, Washenitz 0-2, Strickland 1-1, Harris 1-2, Lewis 1-1, Strother 0-2), Notre Dame 6-21 (Westbeld 1-3, Citron 3-8, Miles 1-8, Prosper 1-2). Assists_Pittsburgh 6 (Lewis 2), Notre Dame 17 (Miles 13). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Pittsburgh 27 (King 6), Notre Dame 41 (Westbeld 10). Total Fouls—Pittsburgh 21, Notre Dame 15. Technical Fouls—None. A—4,716.