Olivia Miles out for N.C. State game, remains 'day to day' in ACC Tournament

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame's Sonia Citron (11) tried to get rid of the ball as she hit the deck against the defense of U of L's  Mykasa Robinson (5) and Alexia Mobley (23) during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Feb. 26, 2023.

Star Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles was ruled out for Friday afternoon's ACC Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinal game vs. N.C. State in Greensboro, N.C.

She has not been ruled out for the remainder of the tournament that concludes Sunday.

Meanwhile, the top-seeded and No. 10-ranked Irish will be looking to hang their hat, probably a hard hat, on their defense no matter who’s on the floor.

That element of their game may not be as spiffy or flashy as what the magical Miles does, but it’s been a pivotal piece of this team’s success this season.

More:Status remains uncertain for Notre Dame's Olivia Miles heading into ACC Tournament

Frankly, it’s been even better than the offense if you go by numbers.

“Everything has to be adjusted offensively,” coach Niele Ivey acknowledged late Tuesday of what will happen if Miles is not available, “but defensively, that’s where we’re going to carry our identity. (Our players) know we need to step up defensively.”

Miles did made the trip to Greensboro. As of Thursday morning, the sophomore point guard and ACC Player of the Year runner-up was still “working with trainers and doctors,” according to a team spokesperson, but there was “no news” concerning whether she would play.

Feb 23, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Olivia Miles (5) drives to the basket against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Avyonce Carter (15) in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

During an interview on ESPN's SportsCenter Thursday evening Ivey described Miles' status as "day to day," which was reiterated on the ACC Network broadcast before Friday's tip.

"She's still getting looked at," Ivey said, "and so we won't really know until probably after the weekend."

The regular-season champion Irish (24-4, 15-3) open in a 2 p.m. quarterfinal Friday against No. 8-seed North Carolina State (20-10, 9-9), an 83-58 winner Thursday afternoon over ninth-seeded Syracuse.

The Irish lost 69-65 in their lone meeting with the Wolfpack, though the game was on the road and they were without then-injured center Lauren Ebo, who has since returned. N.C. State will be without its star sophomore guard, Diamond Johnson who did not play Thursday. Coach Wes Moore said she'll miss the rest of the ACC Tourney with a lingering ankle injury.

ND would slot into a noon semifinal Saturday if it advances, that contest potentially a third matchup against fourth-seeded Louisville (21-10, 12-6) in just 17 days. The Cardinals face No. 12-seed Wake Forest Friday, which upset No. 5 Florida State Thursday.

Sunday’s championship is at 1 p.m. on ESPN (all other tourney contests are on ACC Network). No. 8-ranked Virginia Tech (24-4, 14-4) and No. 13 Duke (24-5, 14-4) headline the other half of the bracket.

“We have a lot of positive energy coming into this tournament,” Ivey said after ND wrapped up its first outright ACC regular-season title since 2017 on Sunday by rallying from 10 down in the second half to beat host Louisville 68-65.

Last game:Notre Dame women overcome loss of Olivia Miles to clinch ACC regular-season championship

The Irish did so minus Miles, who suffered her scary looking right knee injury 2:35 before halftime with her team down 26-22, and they did so not only by shooting 54% from the field in the second half, but by limiting the Cardinals to 30%.

“I think our team just did a good job of focusing possession by possession … looking at it like, ‘get a stop; score;’ that’s it,” said sophomore guard Sonia Citron, who netted 17 of her season-high 27 points in the second half. “We knew what we had to do, and it was all on defense.”

Ah, yes, that defense.

Jan 22, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld (21) blocks the shot attempt by Virginia Cavaliers forward Camryn Taylor (20) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

While ND’s averaging a robust 78.6 points per game, its defensive metrics actually outpace its offensive ones.

With all of it coming against one of the nation’s premier schedules, too, consider that the Irish are 15th in the country among 361 teams in defensive net field goal percentage at 40.2 (the offense is 41st at 50.4) and 18th in points per possession allowed at 0.81 (the offense is 21st at 1.06).

Helping each figure is the nation’s seventh-best rebounding rate at 57%, which is admittedly boosted by having Miles as team leader at 7.3 per game.

Miles also happens to be the leader in steals (2.1) to go with leading in assists (6.9) and ranking second in scoring (14.3), barely behind Citron (14.5).

Still, ND can unleash plenty of power on defense even without Miles.

On the perimeter, Citron’s been an ace all winter, while freshmen swings KK Bransford and Cass Prosper have climbed steep learning curves at speedy clips. Ivey calls the trio “super long, super athletic.”

The versatile Maddy Westbeld has contributed stops both inside and outside, and the 6-4 Ebo and 6-4 Kylee Watson, sometimes on the court together, sometimes not, each serve as imposing interior forces.

“There’s a lot of things that Ebo and Kylee did that don’t show up (in a box score),” Ivey said of the win over Louisville. “Their defense, their presence, (sometimes) taking two people.”

Notre Dame center Laruen Ebo (33) pulls down a rebound against Pittsburgh guard Emy Hayford (4) and forward Liatu King (2) during the second half of an NCCA college basketball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

On the other end of the court, Ebo and Watson, averaging a combined 16.0 points, finished with a combined five against the Cardinals, a season low when setting aside the five games Ebo did not play.

Their head coach found some irony in that, though not major concern.

“What’s interesting is I felt like that might’ve been the most physical game I’ve ever been a part of, and I was running plays to get both of them the ball,” Ivey said, “and then when I look at the box score, Ebo only had two attempts (and Watson three). We got the ball to her and she had to kick it out, or Kylee had to kick it out. They didn’t get as many attempts as I wanted, but Soni did such a great job, and KK (14 points) and Cass (11 points) picked up the slack. … Ebo draws a lot of attention, so she opened up a lot of backdoor opportunities.”

Foremost, though, Citron “was incredible,” per Ivey, so much so that the coach abandoned her initial move of having Jenna Brown handle more point guard duties once Miles went out.

“I think Jenna’s gonna really help us and she’s ready,” Ivey said of her point guard options going forward if Miles is not on the floor. “I think Maddy and KK are gonna help as well, but it was in the moment of the game and I kind of went with the feel, and the feel for me was Soni taking over.”

More:Niele Ivey named ACC coach of the year after leading Notre Dame to regular-season title

ACC Women's Basketball Tournament

At Greensboro (N.C) Coliseum (All time EST)

First Round – Wednesday, March 1

  • No. 12 Wake Forest 68, No. 13 Virginia 57
  • No. 10 Clemson 71, No. 15 Pitt 53
  • No. 11 Boston College 62, No. 14 Georgia Tech 57

Second Round – Thursday, March 2

  • No. 12 Wake Forest 65, No. 5 Florida State 54
  • No. 8 N.C. State 83, No. 9 Syracuse 58
  • Game No. 6 – No. 7 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Clemson, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
  • Game No. 7 – No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Boston College, 8 p.m. (ACCN)

Quarterfinals – Friday, March 3

  • No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 12 Wake Forest, 11 a.m. (ACCN)
  • No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 8 N.C. State, 2 p.m. (ACCN)
  • No. 2 Duke vs. Winner of Game No. 6, 6 p.m. (ACCN)
  • No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. Winner of Game No. 7, 8 p.m. (ACCN)

Semifinals – Saturday, March 4

  • ACC Semifinal No. 1, Noon (ACCN)
  • ACC Semifinal No. 2, 2:30 p.m. (ACCN)

Championship – Sunday, March 5

  • Championship, 1 p.m. (ESPN)