Notre Dame is again, and able to return to the highest


Maddy Westbeld launches a shot over Wake Forest defenders. AP file picture.
Maddy Westbeld launches a shot over Wake Forest defenders. AP file picture.

The bell had been rung, and Maddy Westbeld answered the decision.

Her Notre Dame Combating Irish had simply misplaced to the North Carolina Tar Heels earlier this month, and had been seeking to bounce again in opposition to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 4 days later.

The Irish received going away 86-47, as a consequence of Westbeld possibly enjoying the very best sport of her profession thus far with 25 factors, eight rebounds, 4 assists and two steals. That is the sophomore’s second-ever 25-point sport, having beforehand scored as a lot as a freshman, and this season it’s the most factors that any Notre Dame participant has scored thus far.

Westbeld has actually stepped up her sport this yr averaging 10.4 factors, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per sport. It’s simply one of many ways in which she is actively following within the footsteps of her sister, Kat, who additionally performed for the Irish and helped earn them an NCAA title 5 years in the past.

“This yr, I’ve been extra of a rim protector, simply getting extra blocks, getting extra steals and deflections and all these little stats, simply doing all of the soiled issues on protection and simply being there for my teammates, being in that spot after I have to be,” Westbeld stated.

Her emergence has served as the proper metaphor for the resurgence of an Irish program that had a little bit of a downfall after their championship win, falling out of the AP prime 25 ballot and culminating within the retirement of Naismith Corridor of Fame coach Muffet McGraw. In present head coach Niele Ivey’s third season, they’re at the moment 16-2 general and 7-1 in convention play, which is sweet for second within the ACC.

Coming off of a season the place they superior to the Candy 16 after not even making it to the Event in Ivey’s first yr, the group is loaded with expertise. It begins with Westbeld, who is among the prime entrance court docket gamers within the land, and one of many nation’s finest level guards in sophomore Olivia Miles (15.6 factors, 7.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists and a pair of.3 steals per sport).

Ivey has different gifted gamers like Sonia Citron (13.6 factors, 6.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per sport), Lauren Ebo (9.8 factors, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per sport), and she or he sees issues coming collectively properly.

“I really feel like this yr, understanding and realizing what it takes, having the chance to truly be one possession away from going additional than the Candy 16, that have I believe is basically going to assist us and catapult us to hopefully go additional than we did final yr,” Ivey stated.

The expertise has undoubtedly been a significant factor of their efficiency this yr, as they’re a good higher two-way group, as they’re averaging 79.7 factors per sport – second-most within the convention – and their protection is third-best, as Notre Dame permits simply 58 factors per outing. 

Their distinctive offense can undoubtedly be attributed to the truth that they lead the ACC in group assists, with 17.9 per sport. Loads of that is because of Miles’ shepherding of the offense, as she does lead the convention individually in assists. She has phenomenal court docket imaginative and prescient, she is nice at pushing the tempo in transition and is only a nice all-around participant.

The truth that Miles has such nice chemistry along with her teammates comes from what she does each on and off the court docket. On it, she has recognized Citron since they had been each members of the united statesA. Ladies’s Basketball U16 Nationwide Staff, and has performed along with Westbeld for nearly three years now.

Off the court docket, lots of the gamers hang around collectively every single day, doing issues resembling watching films and going purchasing. In addition they typically make journeys to Chicago, the place the aunt of one of many gamers has a apartment, and they’re able to discover town, buy groceries and attend NBA video games, having not too long ago attended the Nets-Bulls sport on Jan. 4.

Their relationships are based mostly on honesty.

“Although we’re super-close, we do maintain one another accountable,” Miles stated. “We’re all the time making one another higher and it’s only a enjoyable expertise to play with them every single day.”

Olivia Miles and coach Niele Ivey share a hug after a win. Combating Irish Media picture.

That sense of accountability and having one another’s again is one thing that was instilled on this group by Ivey. She is all the time difficult all of her gamers to do higher, particularly provided that she too as soon as wore that uniform and was part of the 2001 title group.

Ivey is aware of what it’s wish to have a variety of stress on her to succeed – particularly since she succeeded McGraw. Ivey feels that she let the stress get to her throughout her first season in 2020, at a time the place there was not solely a world pandemic in addition to racial strife, however she additionally needed to rebuild the group after the whole beginning lineup declared for the 2019 WNBA draft.

“I believe I centered on principally simply attempting to be the very best that I might be, attempting to be myself, not attempting to be Muffet McGraw, however simply to be myself, after which depend on my information and likewise my ardour and the expertise that I had as an assistant coach,” Ivey stated.

As a former assistant coach for each the Irish and the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, Ivey realized assist younger gamers attain their fullest potential, and since she was answerable for recruiting when she was an assistant, she is aware of to recruit the appropriate gamers and guarantee that they’re in the very best place to thrive.

“You don’t attempt to handcuff them,” McGraw stated. “You don’t attempt to sluggish them down. You allow them to be artistic. You allow them to play to their strengths, and I believe that’s what they’re doing.”

Notre Dame is unquestionably enjoying to their biggest strengths proper now, as since their second lack of the season they’ve received 4 video games in a row, and they’re scoring a median of 73 factors per sport whereas permitting simply 53 factors.

Ivey needed her group to be extra defensive-minded, and to shoot the ball higher after that loss, they usually have finished each with a mixed capturing proportion of 46 p.c in all 4 of those wins, whereas solely permitting their opponents to shoot a mixed 34 p.c from the sphere.

“I believe that whenever you’re a very good offensive group like they’re, I believe generally, you is usually a little relaxed on protection as a result of your mentality is extra of ‘properly, we’re simply gonna outscore them’ and I believe that once they be taught that if they may cease individuals, it’s going to assist them on days once they don’t shoot the ball properly, and I don’t assume they’ve realized that but,” McGraw stated.

No. 7 Notre Dame’s protection shall be examined tonight, as they face the top-scoring group within the league in No. 24 Florida State, which averages 85.8 factors per sport. In addition they characteristic the league’s main scorer, freshman Ta’Niya Latson, who averages 23.6 factors per sport. One other take a look at for the Irish protection within the season’s second half shall be in opposition to Louisville, as they have to attempt to decelerate 75-points-per-game sharpshooting guard Hailey Van Lith.

Different marquee matchups shall be in opposition to No. 20 NC State and No. 16 Duke on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, respectively. Each video games have the potential to show into defensive slugfests, because the Blue Devils enable opponents simply 51 factors per outing, and the Wolfpack, 60.7.

“Within the ACC, that is in my view the toughest convention within the nation,” Miles stated. “Taking part in on this league, it’s superb only for the expertise, and simply the preparedness we get for the (NCAA) Event is unmatched.”

Ivey has set a unique objective in every season she has been Notre Dame’s head coach. This yr, the intention is to win a nationwide championship, regardless of the lack of beginning guard Dara Mabrey for the season final weekend, with an ACL tear.

After defeating archrival UConn by 14 factors in December, Ivey reiterated to her group what their normal was, and that they have to match it every single day.

Westbeld is aware of this normal and tradition, having been on the sideline on the 2018 Remaining 4 and witnessing each game-winners by Arike Ogunbowale within the semifinal and nationwide championship video games, respectively. Watching her sister profitable a championship as a member of her favourite group has impressed her to this present day.

“Seeing simply that complete group, their chemistry and their grit and toughness and seeing their practices rising up, it actually instilled one thing in me to simply attempt to convey that to my group,” Westbeld stated.



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