Notre Dame blows out Southern Utah in NCAA opener

Published 7:19 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

NOTRE DAME — The Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored the first 16 points of its opening round NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament opening round on its way to an easy 82-56 victory over Southern Utah Friday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish, the No. 3 seed in the Greenville [North Carolina] Regional, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in style by opening up a 27-10 lead after one quarter against the Thunderbirds.

Notre Dame opened play without All-American point guard Oliva Miles, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season earlier in the week due the knee injury sustained in the regular-season finale.

Despite not having their leader, Notre Dame, which won its 23rd NCAA Tournament contest of the 25 it has played at Purcell Pavilion, the Fighting Irish made sure there was no inkling of a letdown against Southern Utah.

“The word I’m thinking of is resilience,” said Notre Dame Head Coach Niele Ivey. “Coming into the season, I talked to the team about our identity. What are people going to say about you? To see where we are now, having faced this adversity, the toughness that we’ve shown over the last month, I’m super proud that our identity is our resilience.”

There was definitely no hangover for the Fighting Irish as they hit 13-of-16 field goal attempts in the opening 10 minute, led by Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson, both of whom went 3-for-3 from the field.

Notre Dame (26-5) did not let up second quarter as it outscored the Thunderbirds 16-14 to take a 43-24 lead at halftime. To make sure Southern Utah (23-10) would not make any type of comeback in the final 20 minutes, the Fighting Irish poured in another 27 points in the third quarter and led 70-42 heading to the final eight minutes of play.

Notre Dame’s Maddy Westbeld, who led the Fighting Irish with 20 points, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals, said that the effort at both ends of the court was important against the Thunderbirds.

“It started on defense,” she said. “We’ve emphasized getting out and running in transition. Get the rebound and run. We did a really good job at the beginning, and that’s what set the tone early.”

Notre Dame was an unselfish basketball team in its NCAA opener. The Fighting Irish finished with 24 team assists, ninth best all-time in its NCAA Tournament history. Besides Westbeld, Sonia Citron had a team-high six assists and KI Bransford five assists. Lauren Ebo and Cassan Prosper both finished with three assists.

“Just an overall incredible performance,” Ivey said. “I’m excited to be able to play on Sunday.”

Megan Jensen was the lone Southern Utah player to reach double figures as she led the Thunderbirds with 11 points.

Notre Dame will face the winner of Friday evening’s No. 6 Creighton versus No. 11 Mississippi State game. The tip time at Purcell Pavilion is TBD.