Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2024

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

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48 JANUARY 2024 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WOMEN'S BASKETBALL BY TYLER HORKA N otre Dame faced an early inflec- tion point in the 2023-24 season. The Fighting Irish were down south in Knoxville, Tenn., for the first-ever ACC-SEC challenge, and they were down in the game, too. Big. By a lot. The Lady Volunteers led by 16 points on their home floor, a court in the shad- ows of eight national championship banners. For many years, that wouldn't be anything to feel bad about for a road team at Thompson-Boling Arena. That's what Tennessee did; ripped the hearts out of foes and squished 'em. Stomped on 'em. This Tennessee team, though, isn't like those eight others that won it all under the late, great, legendary head coach Pat Summitt. The Lady Vols had already lost twice at the time of tipping off against the Fighting Irish Nov. 29, and little did they know an eventual loss to Notre Dame would be the first of three consecutive defeats to drop their overall record to 4-5 through Dec. 6. Yes. An eventual loss to Notre Dame. The Irish erased their 16-point deficit and earned a 74-69 win on the road. Tennessee spinning into a down- ward spiral since then isn't as impor- tant as Notre Dame, under the direction of fourth-year head coach Niele Ivey, finding a way to win on the road with- out junior guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron and sophomore guard/forward Cass Prosper in the lineup. Outside of the seven minutes fresh- man guard Emma Risch provided, Ivey employed a six-player rotation. And those six were enough to win a sixth straight game since dropping the season opener to South Carolina. "We didn't start very well but came back in the second half and really fought to the end," Ivey said. "I'm super proud." The winning streak grew to seven a week later in yet another game without Miles, Citron and Prosper. Even Risch was not available for a 96-42 home win over Lafayette Dec. 6. What Notre Dame is doing without key players, regardless of the level of talent of the opposition, has been a marvel. When the first NET rankings were released Dec. 4, Notre Dame was listed at No. 5. That essentially equates to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament bracket. Through eight games, the Irish played more games (five) away from Purcell Pa- vilion than they did on their home floor. That's unheard of in the first month of a perennial powerhouse's college basket- ball season. Home games are generally aplenty in November. A 29-point loss to the now-No. 1 Gamecocks in Paris, France, was a learning moment for Ivey's team. So was pacing itself to an 11-point win against Notre Dame Overcomes Injuries To Win Seven Straight Freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo has quickly asserted herself as one of the best players in all of wom- en's college basketball, averaging 23.6 points, 6.0 steals, 5.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game during Notre Dame's 7-1 start. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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