Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament run ends with loss to Notre Dame

Published 5:05 pm Monday, March 25, 2024

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Maddy Westbeld scored 20 points and Hannah Hidalgo added 19 to help No. 2 seed Notre Dame beat seventh-seeded Ole Miss 71-56 on Monday in the second round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Sonia Citron added 17 for the Fighting Irish (28-6), who advanced to the Sweet 16. They will play No. 3 seed Oregon State in the Albany Regional.

Kennedy Todd-Williams and Madison Scott led Ole Miss with 15 points each. The Rebels reached the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row, after going 0-16 in the Southeastern Conference during the 2019-20 season. The program’s progress was not lost on coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin.

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“Again, just recently, four years ago, we were 0-16, and now we’ve put ourselves in a situation to expect to go to at least a Sweet 16 every year. Really disappointed as far as that’s concerned. But not disappointed with the team and what we’ve accomplished this season,” McPhee-McCuin said.

Notre Dame hit Ole Miss with an intense attack from the opening tip, establishing an up-tempo tone on offense and a relentless but controlled defense early.

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said that although the Fighting Irish primarily use a six-player rotation, the plan was to play fast-paced and aggressive.

“We’re a pace team,” Ivey said. “We’re better in transition. We like to run. We like to play fast. So did Ole Miss. That was the goal. Get out and run, make them defend us.

The Fighting Irish bolted to a 21-9 lead after one quarter, using a sticky zone to harass Ole Miss into 4-of-17 shooting in the first quarter. Ole Miss finished the game hitting 39 percent (22-of-57).

“We came out with this mentality that we were going to go on a 10-0 run, and we were just going to stop them from the jump,” said Hidalgo, who also dished out four assists and had four steals. “We knew that we needed to hit them before they kind of hit us, because they’re a great team and they’re really athletic. We were all just locked into the scout and everyone was locked in on defense, so I was able to be more aggressive.”

McPhee-McCuin was disappointed that her team struggled to match Notre Dame’s intensity early.

Notre Dame’s defense pressured Ole Miss into 22 turnovers, the second-most number of turnovers the Rebels committed all season. Ole Miss had 25 turnovers in a 77-67 overtime victory against Florida.

“The disappointing part was someone got beat up, and it wasn’t them,” she said. “They beat us up. That’s what’s disappointing when your character and your reputation is to dictate and disrupt. I thought that they came prepared for a fight, and I don’t think we fought.”

Notre Dame expanded its lead to 19 points, at 33-14, on a 3 by Westbeld from the top of the key with 5:10 left. The Fighting Irish led 43-26 at halftime.

Ole Miss used an 8-2 run to cut it to 63-50 with 5:46 left in the game, but Anna DeWolfe’s jumper and a breakaway basket by Hidalgo pushed the Fighting Irish lead to 67-50 with 4:08 remaining and that sealed the game.

“It was just about being urgent to get back into the game. That was really the main talk. Just getting back to our principles,” Todd-Williams said of the Rebels’ late surge. “But it was too late in the game to even do that.”