Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2023

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

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Page 45 of 55

46 APRIL 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA R arely is any conference's Coach of the Year put in a position to lobby for her team's postseason placement, but that's where Notre Dame's Niele Ivey found herself after a lopsided loss to Louisville in the ACC Tournament semifinals March 4. Ivey's Fighting Irish began the year ranked No. 9 in the preseason Asso- ciated Press poll. They rose as high as No. 4 and never dropped lower than No. 10. And yet, the head coach of a top-10 team all season long was still asked specifically about her message to the NCAA Tournament selection com- mittee and why her team deserves the best seeding designation possible. Usu- ally that's a situation reserved for the coach of a bubble team. Different sport, but Nick Saban's plea for the Alabama Crimson Tide on the eve of the most recent College Football Playoff selection show comes to mind. The Tide didn't make the cut. Ivey, the ACC Coach of the Year and leader of a 25-5 team, getting asked point-blank to play the awkward role of Saban a week before Selection Sunday? Unsettling, even if it was a completely warranted question. (Yes, it was.) That's how much one player can change the entire perception of a team. Notre Dame sophomore point guard Olivia Miles is "day to day" with a right knee injury. She didn't play in either of the Irish's ACC Tournament games. That was fine when they took care of North Carolina State 66-60 in the quarterfinals. However, it was a major issue when they were trounced by Louisville 64-38 in the semifinals. Miles' ball handling, play making and court presence were all missed in what was Notre Dame's low- est offensive point total of the season. The impetus of the postgame ques- tion is the fact that the selection com- mittee takes into account available per- sonnel when crafting the field. If Miles cannot play in the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame will not be the same team that rolled to a 15-3 regular-season re- cord in the ACC and only lost a handful of games all year. The Irish could get dinged on the seed line as a result. Ivey pleaded for that not to be the case in her answer to that question. "I would tell them to look at the end of the Louisville game and the last game versus NC State," Ivey said. "That shows who we are. We've had to adjust without having [Miles] but the body of work [and] our last two performances not counting today is what we're ca- pable of." The Louisville game Ivey wants the selection committee to look at is the one that occurred Feb. 26 when Miles sustained her knee injury. The Irish were losing by four with less than three minutes until halftime when Miles went down. They composed themselves in the second half without their floor gen- eral and won 68-65, claiming the regu- lar-season conference crown in front of a hostile road crowd. One game later, in Notre Dame's first game without Miles in the lineup since January 2021, the Irish beat NC State 66-60 in Greensboro, N.C. Gutsy considering the circumstances? Ab- solutely. But this year's Wolfpack isn't quite as strong as the teams that won three straight ACC Tournament titles from 2020-22. NC State went 9-9 in regular-season conference games and was projected to be a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN's Charlie Creme as of March 5. A six-point win over a No. 7 seed doesn't exactly scream national title contender. It doesn't shout Final Four contender either, which Notre Dame was in the eyes of followers of the sport for most of the season. Once projected to be a No. 1 seed by Creme when Miles was healthy and roll- ing, Notre Dame was a No. 3 seed in the same set of March 5 projections. That's right about where the No. 10 team in the country should be, so maybe Ivey doesn't have to do much lobbying after all. But the question being asked in the first place is the bigger story. Notre Dame is not the same without Miles and her 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 as- sists and 2.1 steals per game. Those are all team-leading statistics aside from the scoring, which is second behind fel- low sophomore guard Sonia Citron (14.7 points per game). Citron is Notre Dame's biggest hope for postseason success in a world in which Miles is sidelined. She scored 27 points in the regular-season finale vic- tory over Louisville and 28 in the ACC Tournament win over NC State. She was limited to 8 points in the most recent tilt versus the Cardinals, and the Irish lost by 26. Not a coincidence. A correlation. Citron has been asked to change her game twice this season. When graduate Notre Dame Is Not The Same Without Star Olivia Miles Miles — who is averaging 14.3 points (second on the team), 7.3 rebounds (first), 6.9 assists (first) and 2.1 steals (first) per contest — missed both of the Fighting Irish's ACC Tournament games due to a knee injury suffered in the regular- season finale at Louisville Feb. 26. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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