Notre Dame knocks out Mississippi State in NCAA Women’s Tournament

Published 7:18 pm Sunday, March 19, 2023

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Five years after Notre Dame broke Mississippi State’s heart in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, it did it again.

Lauren Ebo had 10 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks to help No. 3 seed Notre Dame beat 11th-seed Mississippi State 53-48 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

“Keeping them off the boards was important for us and rebounding is something we really struggled with in the past month or so,” Ebo said. “I wanted to go out there and help us get to the Sweet Sixteen.”

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Notre Dame (27-5) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and the 19th time in program history. It will play Maryland on March 25 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Mississippi State (22-11) has only faced Notre Dame twice in women’s basketball, and both times had its season end at the hands of the Irish. Notre Dame won 61-58 with a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the 2018 national championship game.

The Bulldogs were a decided underdog this time, after advancing out of the First Four earlier in the week. Mississippi State won two games in the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since reaching the regional final as a No. 1 seed in 2018-19. It lost in the national final in the two seasons prior.

“What we did was so special,” first-year Mississippi State coach Sam Purcell said. “You have a program that a lot of people around the country said, ‘It’s done; it had its glory years.’ But these young women were an absolute joy to coach.”

Maddy Westbeld added nine points and 15 rebounds for the Irish, who blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter before making the plays down the stretch for the win.

Mississippi State scored eight straight points to open the fourth quarter and tie the game at 41. Ebo scored the first Irish basket of the final period on an offensive putback with 4:38 remaining.

The Irish regained the lead for good, at 45-43, on a pair of KK Bransford free throws with 3:49 left

“The crowd erupted,” Notre dame coach Niele Ivey said. “We really needed a basket to settle us in.”

Ebo also did it on the defensive end, holding the Bulldogs’ leading scorer Jessika Carter to five points on 2-for-11 shooting. The Notre Dame post player set the school record in the NCAA Tournament with her rebounding effort. She broke Katryna Gaither’s mark of 16 set in 1997.

“(Ebo) knew that Mississippi State’s offense went through Carter, and that was something we were focused on,” Ivey said. “We had to get the stops, protect the paint with her and we had to establish our inside game.”

A multitude of Mississippi State guards agitated Notre Dame’s leading scorer Sonia Citron, who was frequently picked up full court. She scored 14 points.

Citron, Bransford and Jenna Brown shared ballhandling responsibilities with second-team Associated Press All-American point guard Olivia Miles out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed knee injury.

The trio combined for four assists with nine turnovers.

“I knew they were going to pressure us a lot, and we worked on it all week,” Ivey said. “I think sometimes you’ve just got to learn in the moment.”

Kourtney Weber led Mississippi State with 14 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.

“Tonight was just a night where you’ve got your third game in a week, the first two were just shooting the ball like no other and things are going well, but you have to give credit to Notre Dame’s defense. They are long and they made us take some rushed shots,” Purcell said. “For us to make a run, it was just fitting of who we are. We’ve bent, had bad moments, but we never broke. They laid it on the line and we had a chance at the end but came up a couple free throws short, a couple of layups short, and that’s life.”