Notre Dame freshman Blake Wesley enters name for NBA draft

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame freshman guard Blake Wesley announced he’s entering the NBA draft.

The 6-foot-5 guard, who averaged a team-leading 14.4 points for his hometown Fighting Irish, tweeted his intention on Wednesday. Wesley later told ESPN that he was one-and-done at Notre Dame after helping the Irish to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years.

“I plan on staying in the draft,” Wesley told ESPN. “I’m in a great position. I’m ready for the NBA. I’m ready to start my next journey.”

After thanking his family, his teammates, the school and coach Mike Brey in his tweet, Wesley wrote, “It has always been a dream and goal for me to play at the next level.”

Wesley was an Indiana All-Star at Riley High School and Notre Dame’s first South Bend public school basketball prospect since 1985. He earned his first start for the Irish and hit the game-winning shot in a 66-62 victory over then-No. 10 Kentucky on Dec. 11 at the Purcell Pavilion. He shot 40.4% from the field and averaged 3.7 rebounds, with 84 assists and 44 steals. He earned All-ACC second-team honors.

Wesley was the only freshman in a starting lineup dominated by seniors and grad students at Notre Dame, which finished with a 24-11 record. That included going 15-5, along with North Carolina, as runners-up to Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion Duke.

Players with college eligibility remaining are allowed to gather information from individual and group workouts but must decide by June 1 whether to return to school or stay in the draft.

Some NBA scouts believe Wesley could be a mid-to-late first-round pick. The draft will be held June 23 at the Barclays Center in New York.

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

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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

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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.

Notre Dame keeps rolling, beats Alabama 78-64 in first round

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Cormac Ryan scored a career-high 29 points, including seven 3-pointers, and 11th-seeded Notre Dame recovered from a grueling First Four win and late-night flight to beat sixth-seeded Alabama 78-64 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ryan, a senior guard, was 10 of 13 from the field and made a career-best seven of his nine tries from beyond the arc for Notre Dame (24-10), which beat Rutgers in double overtime Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, to earn a trip to San Diego.

Blake Wesley had 18 points while Paul Atkinson Jr. added 13 points and eight rebounds. The Fighting Irish missed six of their first seven shots but went 28 of 47 the rest of the way.

Keon Ellis led Alabama (19-14) with 16 points and Jaden Shackelford scored 13. Junior guard Jahvon Quinerly suffered a left knee injury early in the game and did not return. His knee was in an immobilizing brace when he came back to the Crimson Tide bench.

Notre Dame will play Texas Tech Sunday in the second round of the West Region. The third-seeded Red Raiders breezed to a 97-62 victory over Montana State earlier Friday.

The Irish had a 41-36 advantage at halftime. Alabama scored six straight points early in the second half to get within 44-42 before Notre Dame pulled away with a 17-5 run. Ryan and Wesley each had six points during the spurt and Atkinson added five.

Notre Dame’s largest lead was 76-60 with under two minutes remaining.

Neither team led by more than four points the first 18 minutes before Notre Dame scored nine straight points to grab a 41-33 advantage with 40 seconds left in the first half. Nate Laszewski had the first five points during the run, including a layup to give the Irish the lead. Juwan Gary hit a 3-pointer to draw Alabama within five points at halftime.

QUINERLY’S INJURY

Quinerly was driving to the basket when his knee appeared to buckle three minutes into the game. The junior guard was moaning in pain as he was clutching his knee while being looked at by trainers. He was then taken to the locker room without putting much weight on his left leg.

Quinerly is second on the Crimson Tide in scoring, averaging 13.8 points.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish made 10 3-pointers, the sixth time in the past 11 games they’ve reached double digits in 3s.

Alabama: The Tide made consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time since 2006 but ended their season with four straight losses.

March Madness: Iveys, mother and son, in league of their own

Rutgers v Purdue
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INDIANAPOLIS – Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey figured out how to balance basketball and motherhood decades ago.

The challenge this season was splitting her time adequately between keeping the Fighting Irish’s resurgent season on track and playing the role of proud mother for son Jaden, a star guard for Purdue.

For the Iveys, it’s been a busy year – filled with the joys, disappointments and mysteries that so often clutter the minds of coaches and players. But in their world, mother and son have a basketball bond in their blood.

“I love coaching and mentoring and I love my child, so it’s a fun balancing act,” Niele Ivey said. “It’s sometimes very challenging because I have so much going on. I feel like sometimes, I can’t be there for him. So I try to find ways to be there for him – even when I can’t be there.”

Niele Ivey found a way to make the four-hour roundtrip drive from South Bend to West Lafayette more than a half dozen times this season, using the same roads former Irish men’s coach Digger Phelps once joked didn’t exist. And while she prefers donning her son’s No. 23 jersey at games, Niele sometimes shows up in the warmest outerwear she owns – a Notre Dame jacket, showing off the alma mater where she starred on the court.

She was there last weekend in Indianapolis when her son helped put the Boilermakers in position to win their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2009. And she was there again when her dejected son blamed himself for the championship game loss to Iowa on Sunday.

Through it all, the postgame hugs and private conversations helped this basketball family cope with life’s larger lessons.

“This is for real home,” Jaden Ivey said after a win last week in Indianapolis at the recently rebranded Gainbridge Fieldhouse. “Obviously my mom, she’s been here, played with the (WNBA’s Indiana) Fever, and as a young boy, I can remember coming here. It’s just a great atmosphere to be in.”

Niele Ivey hasn’t forgotten much, either.

In addition to the tears she recalls streaming down her son’s cheeks moments after coach Matt Painter offered him a scholarship, the first Jaden received, she also recalls exactly when she knew he was destined for a basketball career. From that point in middle school, Niele Ivey made sure she did everything in her power to get Jaden the right tools to succesfully pursue his goal.

“I started exposing him to high-level training and better teams, so he could receive the best coaching and training around,” she said. “I didn’t do much (coaching), just making sure he had access to gyms and facilities. I’d rebound a little bit, but I was always that voice in the background.”

They didn’t just grow up with basketball. They blossomed together, too.

When Niele accepted her first head coaching job last season, big things were expected. She played a prominent role on Notre Dame’s 2001 national championship team, spent 12 seasons there as an assistant coach before spending one season on the bench with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

But that first, COVID-19 season as Muffet McGraw’s successor didn’t go according to script. They finished 10-10 and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

Ivey needed to rethink some things.

“I said let me just focus on the work and getting better every day, get the team better every day because with the pandemic I didn’t even know if we were going to be playing sometimes,” she said. “It wasn’t going to happen overnight, so it kind of put my faith to the test. But I had to trust the process and continue to work and talk about the vision.”

Meanwhile, she knew Jaden was dealing with the tough transition from high school star to college newbie. It didn’t take him or the other freshmen long to make an impression in West Lafayette, butthen came a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to North Texas and suddenly both Iveys headed into the offseason filled with motivation.

They responded like champs.

Notre Dame went 22-8 and regained its status as a regular member of the Top 25. About 100 miles away, Jaden Ivey was emerging as one of nation’s top young guards, an All-American candidate and a possible lottery pick in June’s NBA draft as he helped Purdue go 27-7.

And this weekend, they will share their excitement yet again – separated by nearly 900 miles.

The Boilermakers open tourney play Friday against 14th-seeded Yale (19-11), the Ivy League champs. Then Saturday, the fifth-seeded Irish will face 12th-seeded UMass (26-6), the Atlantic 10 champs, in the women’s tournament.

“It’s a big week for us,” Jaden Ivey said. “Obviously, we get to play the game we love and do it at a high level. I think she’s focused on trying to win and lead her team, and so am I.”

But both will be watching, hoping and praying they can extend their seasons another day, another weekend, another month because that’s life in the Ivey League.

“After the season, I’ll just have to take a week and celebrate it,” Niele Ivey said. “It’s hard to do being in it because you’re always trying to do something else. I didn’t know what to imagine this season, but I definitely couldn’t imagine it being like this.”