Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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40 DECEMBER 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA D on't be fooled by Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey's shaking head and arms flared palms-up on the sideline at Purcell Pavil- ion on a play that ended with the ball in the bucket and two points on the board for her Fighting Irish in a blowout 95-60 victory over Ball State Nov. 20. Ivey clearly was not happy with the way the Irish ran the offensive set. Graduate student guard Dara Mabrey dribbled into no-woman's land, trapping herself between the baseline and two Ball State defenders. She was able to flick the ball out to sophomore point guard Olivia Miles in the corner. Miles then whipped a pass to cutting junior forward Maddy Westbeld for an easy deuce. Eve n wh e n t h i n gs d o n 't go a s planned for Notre Dame in the early going of the 2022-23 season, the Irish wind up with good results. They started the year 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 30 points. Two of those games were against Power Five co m p e t i t i o n ( C a l i f o r n i a a n d Northwestern) away from South Bend. Ivey has a right to demand near per- fection from her group, which rose to No. 7 in the Associated Press poll in late November. This is a program that, with Ivey's coaching, recruiting and pilfering of players from the transfer portal, has taken on lofty expectations once again. "We're just scratching the surface, and that makes me excited," Ivey said. "Every moment, every game, every practice, I see something positive." She certainly sees something positive from Miles every game. The floor general averaged 16.0 points, 7.8 assists, 7.0 rebounds and 3.8 steals in Notre Dame's first four games. Sophomore slump? Never heard of it. She's a sophomore sensation. Sophomore guard Sonia Citron has the ability to be one, too. She ranked second on the team in scoring through four games with 15.0 points per con- test. She also reeled in a team-high 8.0 rebounds per game. Citron poured in 24 points versus Northwestern Nov. 16 sandwiched around two 14-point per- formances against Cal and Ball State. Ivey challenged her to be more asser- tive in Year 2. So far, so good. "I'm going to try to be as aggressive as I can, but I'm never going to lose that unselfishness I have," Citron said. "I'm still going to play my game." The unselfishness allows Notre Dame to unlock new aspects of its game on a nightly basis, as Ivey alluded to. Some halves, Mabrey will erupt for 19 points with 5 three-point makes like she did against Ball State. Other halves, Cit- ron will channel her aggressive side and drop 17 in one half like she did against Northwestern. Even true freshman KK Bransford broke out with 16 points, 8 per half, ver- sus Ball State after scoring an average of 4.0 in Notre Dame's first three games. The next step is more consistent post play. Texas transfer Lauren Ebo and Oregon transfer Kylee Watson, both of whom stand 6-foot-4 and are Ivey's most relied-upon post presences, ranked third and fifth, respectively, on the team in average rebounds per game through four matchups. "I want our posts to be able to get down there, make contact and really help us ignite our breaks," Ivey said. If scoring is the avenue Ivey wants Citron to spend more time on, then she needs to see the same type of effort from Ebo and Watson on the glass. It sounds like she will. And she needs them to stay out of debilitating foul trouble, too. Ebo fouled out in 15 minutes against Cal. She took on four personals in 13 minutes versus Northwestern. Wat- son only scored 2 points in 19 minutes against Ball State. She picked up 2 fouls in the first quarter and never found a rhythm within the flow of the game thereafter. The foul trouble has forced Ivey to use a plethora of different lineup combinations. To h e r d e l i g h t , j u s t about all of them have worked. And it hasn't been like Miles and the rest of the starters have needed to play 35- plus minutes, either. She only averaged 28.3 in the first four games. Citron led the team at that point with 32.0. Notre Dame might not have strength in numbers with nine scholarship players, but every one of them has contributed in game action in some way, shape or form so far. That includes Ebo and Watson, who combined for 20.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game in the first four. Even oft-injured Jenna Brown, a guard transfer from Stanford, and Na- talija Marshall, a former five-star post player who has endured a laundry list of knee troubles, combined to chip in 9.8 points per tilt in the Irish's first four. Competition will stiffen. Rotations might subsequently shorten. But the first few weeks of the season were all Ivey could have asked for — even when of- fensive sets aren't executed as drawn up. "For me, it's great to see different pieces jelling together," Ivey said. "Co- hesively, I feel like we are really getting there every game." ✦ Freshman guard KK Bransford scored a career-best 16 points in Notre Dame's 95-60 win over Ball State Nov. 20. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS FEELING IT OUT Niele Ivey's team has improved with each game in the early going

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