Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Perez’s late basket lifts NC State to 66-63 win over Irish

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Raina Perez’s steal at midcourt and layup with 14 seconds left lifted top-seeded N.C. State to a 66-63 win over fifth-seed Notre Dame on Saturday in the Bridgeport Region semifinals.

It’s the Wolfpack’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 1998 when they reached the Final Four.

Trailing 59-51 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack rallied, scoring 15 of the final 19 points capped by Perez’s layup. The Irish had one last chance, but Maddy Westbeld missed a 3-pointer from the wing and Perez hit both free throws for the final margin.

“We practice this and knew I could do it,” Perez said of the free throws. I’m just so happy I knocked them down.”

The Wolfpack had gotten within 63-62 when Elissa Cunane made the first of two free throws with 36 seconds left. After a Notre Dame timeout, the Irish got the ball inbounds in the backcourt and Dara Mabrey was stripped near midcourt by Perez, who took it in for the layup and the lead.

N.C. State (32-3) advanced to the regional final Monday night where it will face either second-seeded UConn or No. 3 Indiana.

Cunane scored 16 points and Kai Crutchfield added 14 for the Wolfpack, who avenged an earlier loss to the Irish on Feb. 1. That was N.C. State’s most recent loss of the season.

“It’s a hump we had to get over and the girls are determined and I’m determined and we made it happen.” said Crutchfield of reaching the regional final.

Olivia Miles scored 21 points and Westbeld added 13 for the Irish (24-9).

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has the Irish back among the nation’s elite women’s basketball teams in her second season as head coach. The Irish missed the NCAAs last year for the first time since 1995.

The Wolfpack got off to a decent start and led 16-12 after one quarter before the Irish got going behind their freshman Miles. She and fellow first-year player Sonia Citron scored seven straight for the Irish to open up a 36-26 lead. The Wolfpack trailed 38-30 at the half. The lead stayed around eight for most of the third quarter before the rally by N.C. State.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish are a very young squad and are headed back to being one of the top teams in the country.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack struggled most of the game, but found a way to win in the end and reach the Elite Eight with a senior-led squad.

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Notre Dame: The Irish topped UMass in the first round before routing fourth-seed Oklahoma 108-64 in the second.

N.C. State: The Wolfpack routed both Longwood and Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16.

Mabrey’s 29 points help Notre Dame roll past Oklahoma 108-64

SARAH PHIPPS/THE OKLAHOMAN/USA TODAY NETWORK
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NORMAN, Okla. — Notre Dame stormed into Oklahoma’s building, played the Sooners’ up-tempo style and dominated.

Dara Mabrey scored a season-high 29 points, and the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish rolled past fourth-seeded Oklahoma 108-64 on Monday night to earn a spot in the women’s Sweet 16.

Mabrey made 11 of 19 field goals, including seven 3-pointers. She set the tone early, scoring 17 points in the first quarter against an Oklahoma team that was third nationally in scoring and had built its reputation on forcing a fast tempo.

“That was another main focal point – just pushing, pushing, pushing the ball because we know that no one in the country can run with us, and once we do that, we’re unstoppable,” Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles said.

Sonia Citron scored 25 points and Maya Dodson added 20 for Notre Dame (24-8). According to Stats by STATS, Notre Dame became the first team, men’s or women’s, to beat a higher-seeded team by at least 40 points.

It was Notre Dame’s most complete game of the season.

“The entire game, as far as running and our offense, was exactly how I envisioned it as far as our pace, and we shot the ball well,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “We did a great job of shot selection, going inside out. We established inside game, we ran. And then defensively, our level raised. We raised our level against a really great offensive team.”

It’s the first Sweet 16 berth for Ivey, a second-year coach. The Fighting Irish went 10-10 and missed the tournament last season, making this season’s run sweeter.

“This is something I prayed about, something I knew could come to life, and I’m so over the moon,” Ivey said. “I mean, I’m so proud of this team. I’m so proud of our journey. I’m so proud to see where we’ve come since last season.”

The Fighting Irish will play No. 1 seed North Carolina State on Saturday in a Bridgeport Regional semifinal. The Wolfpack beat Kansas State 89-57 on Monday.

Taylor Robertson scored 19 points for Oklahoma (25-9). Skylar Vann had 11 points and nine rebounds and Liz Scott had 11 points and eight rebounds for the Sooners. Oklahoma committed 28 turnovers and shot just 32.3% from the floor.

Notre Dame led 13-7 before Mabrey scored 12 straight to push the Fighting Irish lead to 18. She banked in her last three points during the run to put Notre Dame ahead 25-7.

Mabrey made 5 of 6 3-pointers in the first quarter. The Fighting Irish shot 56.5% in the opening period to lead 35-12 heading into the second.

Oklahoma didn’t handle Notre Dame’s early surge well.

“I think sometimes when we get down by that much, we do try to get it all back at once, and then that kind of causes bad things for us to happen,” Robertson said. “And then we might dwell on that, and then another bad thing happens, and it kind of snowballed for us a little bit, and we could have done a better job in response to that.”

Notre Dame led 60-25 at halftime. It was the most points the Fighting Irish have ever scored in a half in a tournament game. Mabrey scored 19 points and Citron had 17 before the break. Robertson scored 15 in the first half for Oklahoma, but the rest of the Sooners scored 10 points on 4-for-27 shooting. The Sooners shot 24.2% before the break.

Notre Dame led 85-47 heading into the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish hit the 100-point mark on a fast break layup by Dodson with just over four minutes remaining.

“I thought Notre Dame was phenomenal, and if they can continue to do that, watch out, everybody,” Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “We needed to be better, and we weren’t. That’s on us as a coaching staff for not having us ready.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish used superior athletic ability to outscore the Sooners 34-8 in fast break points and used its size advantage and Miles’ court vision to use the post game and set up outside shooters.

Oklahoma: It was a successful season for Baranczyk, but it was a disappointing finish for a Sooners team that had four Top 25 wins and swept Baylor in the regular season. The future looks bright. Robertson, a senior, said after the game that she will come back next season for a fifth year.

DOING IT ALL

One game after notching a triple-double, Miles nearly got another one.

The freshman guard had nine points, seven rebounds and 12 assists against Oklahoma. In the two games in Norman, she averaged 10.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 11.5 assists.

SISTERLY LOVE

Dara Mabrey tied Marina Mabrey’s school record for 3-pointers in a tournament game. Marina had seven in a Sweet 16 win over Texas A&M in 2018.

Dara expects to hear about it from her sister, who is playing professionally in Australia and also plays for the WNBA’s Dallas Wings.

“Marina, if you hear this, I’m going to break your record at some point,” Dara said.

STAT LINES

Notre Dame’s Maddy Westbeld averaged 16 points on 56% shooting in the two games in Norman. She also averaged seven rebounds and two steals.

McCullar, Texas Tech beat Notre Dame 59-53 to reach Sweet 16

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO — Kevin McCullar made an emphatic dunk with 15 seconds left to cap a 10-1 closing run for No. 3 seed Texas Tech, which advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 59-53 victory over Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

Kevin Obanor had 15 points and 15 rebounds, and McKullar and Bryson Williams each scored 14 for Texas Tech (27-9), which made its third round of 16 in the past four tournaments and fifth in school history. The Red Raiders, under first-year coach Mark Adams, will face second-seeded Duke and retiring 42nd-year coach Mike Krzyzewski in the West Region semifinals Thursday in San Francisco.

Dane Goodwin scored 14 points for 11th-seeded Notre Dame (24-11), which led 52-49 with just over two minutes left. But the Fighting Irish didn’t make a field goal in the last three minutes and Texas Tech made eight straight free throws in the last 1:56, including two by Obanor that put the Red Raiders ahead 53-52 with 1:10 left.

Notre Dame had two turnovers in the final minute. Cormac Ryan was held to nine points after scoring a career-high 29 points, including seven 3-pointers, in a 78-64 win over Alabama in the first round.

McCullar’s slam ended a field goal drought of seven minutes for Texas Tech. He hit a 3-pointer with 7:17 to go, and from there, free throws were somehow enough.

The Fighting Irish were playing their third game in five days. They beat Rutgers in double overtime in a First Four game late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, and took a redeye to San Diego.

Texas Tech led 26-25 at halftime. Notre Dame shot 25% in the half, including 31.3% from the 3-point line. The Fighting Irish airballed three 3-pointers. Notre Dame went scoreless during a six-minute stretch early in the first half, but Texas Tech couldn’t take advantage.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame shot only 32.7% overall and 32.1% from 3-point range. Blake Wesley had 11 points.

Texas Tech’s Williams gets to play in his home state. He started his career in his hometown with Fresno State before transferring to UTEP and then Texas Tech.

Big-name women’s basketball programs returning to prominence

Icon Sportswire/Contributor/Getty Images
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Kellie Harper is working to return the Tennessee women’s basketball program back to being a title contender and has the Lady Vols closer to their traditionally elite status.

She’s got company at other big-name programs, too.

The Lady Vols are ranked fifth in Harper’s third season at her alma mater. Tennessee is among a group of AP Top 25 teams returning to prominence after recent coaching changes. Teams like No. 12 LSU, No. 15 Georgia Tech, No. 16 Duke, No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 21 North Carolina and No. 23 Oklahoma are thriving and primed to make a postseason impact under coaches hired since 2019.

Two of those teams, UNC and Notre Dame, meet Sunday.

“You don’t just push a button and win games,” Harper said after Thursday’s win at Vanderbilt. “There’s a lot that goes into it, a lot on the court, off the court, you have the right personnel. You’ve got to have the right system. . There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, so we’re looking at it as that’s a lot of opportunities for growth for us.”

As Harper noted, there’s still about two months left until Selection Sunday. Yet these teams have put themselves in contention to host early round NCAA Tournament games.

“The teams we’re talking about are actually a part of the conversation on the national scene now,” said Debbie Antonelli, a college basketball analyst for multiple outlets, including ESPN. “None of those teams were talked about three years ago.

“Tennessee wasn’t in the mix to go to the Final Four. North Carolina, Duke, they weren’t in the mix to go to the Final Four. Oklahoma wasn’t discussed as a top-16 team that could host the first and second round. And that’s the big key in the women’s game, that’s a huge piece of it.”

So far, the Lady Vols (16-1) are best positioned for that along with the Tigers (16-2). LSU lured three-time national champion and Hall of Famer Kim Mulkey from Baylor last spring to spark a program that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2014.

At Georgia Tech, third-year coach Nell Fortner took the Yellow Jackets (13-3) to the Sweet 16 last year in the program’s first NCAA trip since 2014. She has also provided stability after the school fired longtime coach MaChelle Joseph, while Courtney Banghart took over at North Carolina around the same time following a tumultuous period resulting in the resignation of Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell.

For Banghart, who left Princeton after 12 years, the formula started with diving into recruiting, then sprinkling in graduate-transfer help. Her first recruiting class was ranked No. 11 by ESPN and headlined by five-star prospect Deja Kelly, now a sophomore and the UNC’s top scorer at 17.6 points. Her next class checked in at No. 3, behind only South Carolina and UConn.

As a result, the Tar Heels (14-1) are in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the 2015-16 preseason poll.

“There’s so many different styles,” Banghart said. “It’s like the NBA. . There’s multiple ways to build a team. One is through the draft and one is through the trade wires. And that’s sort of how it is in college; one is through your recruiting and one is through your transfer process. You’re irresponsible not to monitor both.”

A few miles away at rival Duke, second-year coach Kara Lawson has taken a different approach. The Blue Devils – who called off their season after four games in Lawson’s debut year – restocked with seven power-conference transfers, with Elizabeth Balogun (Louisville), Lexi Gordon (Texas Tech) and Celeste Taylor (Texas) as regular starters in a balanced offense.

Duke (11-3) is ranked this year for the first time since the 2018-19 preseason poll.

“I’ve felt since the beginning of the year . we were a team that would continue to grow, but have a chance to have a higher level of growth than maybe some other teams because we’d gain that continuity as the season goes along,” Lawson said. “We’re gaining it on the fly.”

At Notre Dame, second-year coach Niele Ivey has the Fighting Irish (12-3) rolling again after it posted a losing record in Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw’s final season followed by a 10-10 season in Ivey’s debut.

Ivey credited the arrival of backcourt help in McDonald’s All-American Sonia Citron and fellow freshman Olivia Miles, who leads the country by averaging 7.8 assists. The team also added Stanford graduate transfer Maya Dodson to improved returnees.

“They understand the legacy and they understand this program,” Ivey said. “So our goal this summer was to continue working to get back that Notre Dame that everybody knows and play at a high level.”

And at Oklahoma, the Sooners (14-2) are ranked for the first time since early in the 2017-18 season in their first year under Jennie Baranczyk, who left Drake to take over for retired Sherri Coale.

Oklahoma was 32-52 through the past three seasons, but is coming off its first win against Baylor since 2015.

“I love the balance that we have. I love the believe that we have. I love that we just kept playing,” Baranczyk said afterward. “When we focus on ourselves and just play like that and share the ball, it’s really fun. The scoreboard then takes care of itself when we do that.”

Balogun gives No. 15 Duke women win over No. 17 Irish 72-70

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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DURHAM, N.C.- Elizabeth Balogun scored 27 points including a final go-ahead basket with 30 seconds left to rally No. 15 Duke to a 72-70 victory over No. 17 Notre Dame on Sunday.

Miela Goodchild added 13 points and Celeste Taylor and Lexi Gordon 12 each for the Blue Devils (10-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 50% and made 10 of 20 from the arc, seven more 3s than Notre Dame, which scored 54 points in the paint, 30 more than Duke.

Duke’s leading scorer, Shayeann Day-Wilson, who missed the Blue Devils’ 22-point loss to Virginia Tech because of COVID protocols, returned but was 0-for-7 with two points in 12 minutes.

Maya Dodson had 26 points and nine rebounds to lead the Fighting Irish (11-3, 2-1), who had a four-game winning streak snapped. Sonia Citron added 14 points and Olivia Miles 13. The Irish shot 52%.

Trailing since midway through the third quarter, Goodchild gave Duke the lead with 3 1/2 minutes remaining on a 3-pointer. Notre Dame grabbed the lead back twice before Balogun drove to the hoop to tie at 70-all with just over a minute to go. Miles then lost the ball and Balogun took it the length of the court and scored.

Notre Dame missed three shots up in the paint before Duke regained possession with 3.7 seconds left. After a Duke timeout, Miles made a steal on an inbounds pass and flung it to Citron who hurriedly banked it in but well after the final buzzer.

Notre Dame led 40-37 at halftime in a game in which neither team had a double-digit lead.

Jones, No. 4 N.C. State women roll past Clemson 86-65

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wes Moore knows his fourth-ranked North Carolina State team has talent. He just wants the Wolfpack to play a little, well, meaner.

Jumping all over Clemson on Thursday was a good start.

Kayla Jones scored 21 points and N.C. State beat Clemson 86-65, regrouping from an upset loss over the weekend to unranked rival North Carolina.

The Wolfpack (13-2, 8-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored the game’s first 12 points on the way to a 17-2 lead in the opening 5 1/2 minutes. It was the edge that Moore is wanting to see from his team as it pushes deeper into February, particularly following the UNC loss.

“We’ve got unbelievable young people on this team,” Moore said. “The downside of that is sometimes they can’t maybe have that Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde-type mentality. When you step between the lines, you have to have a little bit of a mean side, whatever, to compete.

“We’re going to get everybody’s A-game and they’re going to come at us. We can’t be on our heels. … So that was the biggest thing: We need some people to get mad, you know?”

Jones outscored the Tigers in the opening period (11-9) and tallied 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting by halftime. N.C. State finished the game shooting nearly 52% while making 10 of 21 3-pointers, securing a 12th straight win in the series with that streak now stretching back more than a decade.

Delicia Washington had 24 points and eight rebounds for Clemson (10-8, 5-8), which never recovered from its bad start. The Tigers trailed 28-9 by the end of the first quarter and got no closer than 13 again, finishing the game shooting 41%.

“You have to give them all the credit for the way that they started the game, threw the first punch,” Clemson coach Amanda Butler said. “We were very reactive. I feel like what makes us a good team, (being) the aggressor – we were just really playing secondary to whatever N.C. State was doing.”

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The Tigers are trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons under Butler, and the program hadn’t gone since 2002 before her arrival. But this one got away quickly from the Tigers, who entered at No. 53 in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

“We’re absolutely talking about it because we think we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Butler said. “But we’ve got to show up when the lights are on and prove it.”

N.C. State: The past week offered a pair of huge swings for the Wolfpack. First came a win at then-No. 1 Louisville, the team’s second road victory against a top-ranked team. Yet N.C State lost to the Tar Heels on Sunday, falling as a top-10 team to the Tar Heels for the third straight year. The Wolfpack responded by leading in this one by as many as 27 points.

SMOOTHER FLOW

It was a much better offensive showing for N.C. State compared to Sunday, when the Wolfpack shot 39% overall and 4 of 19 from 3-point range against the Tar Heels.

“I think we definitely moved the ball better,” said Jakia Brown-Turner, who celebrated her birthday with a 13-point game. “We got it inside and the inside created outside shots for us.”

TIP-INS

Clemson hasn’t beaten N.C. State since January 2011. … Jones had failed to crack double figures in three of her previous five games. She made 8 of 10 shots while matching her career high of seven assists. … Amari Robinson had 11 points as the only other Tigers player to reach double figures. … Clemson made 6 of 23 3-pointers. … N.C. State’s Raina Perez had seven assists after having 13 against UNC while committing just three turnovers in those two games.

UP NEXT

Clemson: The Tigers host Wake Forest on Sunday, the first of (as of now) four straight home games to close the schedule.

N.C. State: Notre Dame visits the Wolfpack on Monday in the annual Play4Kay game that benefits the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.