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MARCH MADNESS: Notre Dame women’s basketball outpaces UMass 89-78 in first round

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Olivia Miles’ triple-double in tournament debut powers Irish past Minutewomen

Syndication: The Oklahoman
Notre Dame junior forward Sam Brunelle, left, and senior guard Dara Mabrey, center, celebrate during Notre Dame’s 89-78 first-round NCAA Tournament win over UMass.
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is a public service announcement
Sponsored by Joshua Vowles and the good folks at One Foot Down

Fellow Notre Dame basketball followers, it is with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this quick recap as a living testament and recollection of history in the making during the Niele Ivey era.

Allow her to reintroduce herself
Her name is Miles, OH, Olivia Miles
(I can’t come up with a good rhyme but you get the idea...)

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament Semifinals - Miami v Notre Dame
Notre Dame redshirt freshman guard Olivia Miles puts up a layup during Notre Dame’s 57-54 loss to Miami in the ACC Tournament on Mar. 5.
William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Olivia Miles, Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman guard currently ranking second in the country in assists per game (only behind some girl at Iowa named Caitlin Clark), powered 5-seed Notre Dame past 12-seed Massachusetts in the Irish’s (24-8, 12-5 ACC) return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their national championship game loss to Baylor in 2019.

The first-round matchup with the Minutewomen (26-7, 11-4 Atlantic 10) marked second-year head coach Niele Ivey’s first trip to the Big Dance while at the helm of her alma mater, and the start to the game was about as good as she could have asked for offensively. (The only downsides of the first quarter were that the preceding Oregon-Belmont game on ESPN2 went to double overtime and watchespn.com is an utterly useless website; relatedly, the Bleacher Report app and its play-by-play list are a godsend).

Dara Mabrey got the hot start rolling with a three-pointer just under 20 seconds into the contest, and the senior guard followed that with another long-range bomb within the game’s first minute. After that the Irish turned to their inside force as graduate forward Maya Dodson hit back-to-back layups to put them up 10-2. The margin was never closer than six for the rest of the game.

Throughout the first quarter the Irish steadily stretched their lead by getting out in transition and getting to the rim — color commentator Brooke Weisbrod rather colorfully (see what I did there?) described it as a “hurry-up” offense with the way ND was throwing the ball ahead on the break — building a 32-17 lead after the first stanza.

The second quarter looked to be more of the same, but thanks to six Notre Dame turnovers turning into seven points for UMass, plus the Minutewomen asserting themselves with physical play, the lead ever so steadily shrank until the sixth and final turnover of the half for Notre Dame allowed UMass to drain a half-court buzzer beater to make it a 49-41 game.

The third period saw an ugly start for both teams as it took nearly two minutes until UMass broke the scoring lid with a layup. On four occasions the Minutewomen cut the Notre Dame lead to six, but timely buckets from Mabrey, sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld and junior guard Anaya Peoples (plus a bailout foul late in the shot clock by UMass) allowed the Irish to maintain the slightest of breathing room and to take a 67-59 lead into the final quarter.

And then, the show really began. If Miles’ stat sheet-stuffing numbers went under the radar through the first three quarters (eight points, nine rebounds, eight assists), the fourth was her time to shine.

She opened the stanza with a rebound to get double-digit boards, scored a layup to do the same scoring wise and then assisted a three-pointer apiece to Mabrey and Westbeld to become just the second Notre Dame women’s player to ever record a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game. Another rebound and a third three-point assist to fellow freshman guard Sonia Citron (plus one final layup for good measure) brought Miles to her final stat-line of 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

Miles’ exceptional play aside, it was a team effort for the Irish. Westbeld led all Irish scorers with 19 while Mabrey and Dodson chipped in 18 apiece. All nine of Citron’s points came in the fourth quarter. Not to be outdone, Minutewomen graduate student forward Sam Been recorded a season-high 31 points in the loss.

Notre Dame will return to the court Monday to face the winner of 4-seed Oklahoma (24-8, 12-6 Big 12), first- and second-round host team, and 13-seed IUPUI (24-4, 18-4 Horizon). Should they win that game the Irish would have a date with the winner of 1-seed N.C. State and 9-seed Kansas State on Saturday. The Irish bested the then-No. 3 Wolfpack (30-3, 17-1 ACC) by a score of 69-66 on Feb. 1.

Odds and Ends

  • This was Notre Dame’s 27 NCAA Tournament appearance; it was just the third ever appears for UMass (and the first since 1998).
  • Skylar Diggins-Smith was formerly the only Notre Dame women’s player to record a triple-double in the NCAA Tournament when she recorded 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Maryland in the Elite Eight on Mar. 27, 2012
  • Miles recorded another triple-double of her own this season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists at Valparaiso on Dec. 8; she has now tied Diggins-Smith and Jackie young for the most career triple-doubles (2) in Notre Dame women’s history.
  • Today was junior forward Sam Brunelle’s 21st birthday; it’s the fourth Irish basketball birthday this week after men’s players Blake Wesley (Mar. 16), Elijah Morgan (Mar. 18) and Prentiss Hubb (Mar. 19).
  • Abby Prohaska returned to the court for the first time since Feb. 1 against N.C. State; the TV broadcast crew reported that Notre Dame had not drawn a single charge in her absence.
  • It is a law of nature at this point that Olivia Miles has to have at least one highlight reel place per game: