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The Scholarly Spotlight: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Women's Basketball

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame has established a fantastic basketball lineage. Their women’s basketball program has produced WNBA All-Stars such as Arike Ogunbowale, Jewell Lloyd, and Jackie Young. Head Coach Niele Ivey is an alumnus who helped the school win the 2001 NCAA Championship during her tenure as a player. Ivey returned to the school as a coach in 2020 and transformed it into the powerhouse it is today. Her coaching record is 84-31 after four seasons at Notre Dame, and they won the 2022-2023 regular season championship. 

They are ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 14th in ESPN’s Associated Press college rankings. Their offense revolves around Freshman point guard Hannah Hidalgo, whose dynamic playstyle is the heart of the Fighting Irish. She was the #4 ranked player in the high school class 2023, and her upside is incredible.  Hidalgo was named the 2024 ACC Rookie and Defensive Player Of The Year. She leads the team in scoring, assists, and steals. She averages 23.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.4 AST, and 4.9 STLS while shooting 46.1% from the field. 

Unfortunately, Fighting Irish fans must wait to see Hidalgo and Olivia Miles on the court together. Miles is one of the best two-way players in the ACC, but she missed her junior year due to a knee injury she suffered during the last game of the 2022-2023 season versus the Louisville Cardinals.

The Fighting Irish Medical staff is monitoring her recovery closely, and the All-American plans to return next season after rumors of a potential transfer began to spread due to the emergence of Hidalgo’s superstardom. Since they are both Point Guards, they must learn to co-exist when Miles returns. During her weekly meeting with the press on Wednesday (March 6th), Ivey addressed the media to provide an update on her health status and transfer rumor.

“I spoke with Liv. She gave me permission to say this. She will be back. I can’t wait. I’m so excited. She’s killing it. She’s crushing it. She looks fantastic," Ivey said. "Her comeback is gonna be a movie. It’s gonna be incredible for everybody to see what she’s doing and how she’s going to be, and everybody needs to get their tickets right now.”

Miles has improved yearly under Ivy, showcasing WNBA star-level potential in college. She is a unique player who can defend, score, rebound, and make plays. The former ACC Player Of The Year Runner-Up averaged nearly a triple-double during her sophomore year: 14.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 2.1 SPG. 

The backcourt pairing of Hidalgo and Miles has extreme potential, and it will be interesting to see how Ivey utilizes them in the same lineup. Sonia Citron has stepped up in Miles’s absence. She is having her best season as the second-leading scorer at 16.4 PPG. Forward Maddy Westbeld has a smooth jump shot and is an excellent rebounder for her position. Their bench depth is some of the best in the ACC, with KK Bransford and Natalija Marshall leading their second unit.

If they were fully healthy this year, they would be one of the most dominant teams in WCBB, regardless of conference. Hidalgo and Miles are exceptional talents, and having two unique players of their caliber on the same college team is rare. Mock draft predictions make them top-3 picks in their respective draft classes.

The Fighting Irish ended their season on a five-game winning streak, and the team did not lose two games in a row all season. Their ability to adjust to their competition's strengths and abuse their weaknesses is outstanding. The momentum from their win streak will pay dividends during their ACC tournament run. 

“I’m really grateful that we’re peaking at the right time. I feel like our team is really locked in. They understand the goals. They’re doing a great job of practicing but also of just being focused and ready,” Ivey said. “I feel like the last five games, especially the last two, playing against ranked opponents (Virginia Tech & Louisville) have been just incredible performances. It’s really propelled us this week, and I think it’s going to propel us, I think, into the tournament.”

Their next game is the ACC Tournament Quarterfinal on March 8th, a rematch against the Louisville Cardinals. Depending on their performance, the Fighting Irish will compete in March Madness. Hidalgo will draw most of the attention, and it’ll be interesting to see how the freshman Phenom deals with the pressure. The 2023 USA Female Athlete Of The Year is ready for the big moment after shining throughout the regular season.  

Ivey and the Fighting Irish have much to look forward to. Five-star recruit Kateryna Koval committed to Notre Dame in October, and she is the #5 ranked player in the class of 2024. Miles will return next season, and if her injury doesn’t linger, she will resume her dominance. Hidalgo is bound to improve from an incredible first year and lead the next generation of the program. Regardless of how this season ends, in 2024-2025, their entire roster will be healthy and one of the best teams in college basketball.

X account: @AntwaneWillisjr

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