BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Niele Ivey doesn’t like to waste time.
It took her four days after being named the new head coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball in August 2020 to land two of the top recruits in the nation. Those freshmen, guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, have quickly evolved into two of the top scorers and playmakers on the roster.
Then it took her one season to lead Notre Dame back to the Sweet 16, a place the program has become familiar with after two championships and four runner-up finishes under Muffet McGraw, Ivey’s former coach and predecessor.
And after Notre Dame’s heartbreaking 66-63 loss to NC State in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, Ivey said it wouldn’t take long for her to turn the page and begin preparing for next season.
“I’m excited to get back to work. Maybe I’ll take 24 hours off, and then I’m going to start watching film and get back to work because that’s what it is. This is a grind,” she said.
For nearly three quarters on Saturday, Notre Dame played like it didn’t want to waste any time, either. After going down 16-12 in the first quarter, Miles led the Fighting Irish on a 24-10 run in the second, scoring eight of her team-high 21 points during that stretch.
Notre Dame maintained its lead all the way into the fourth quarter, not letting NC State get within more than four points for nearly 15 minutes. Citron and Maddy Westbeld, the other two underclassmen in Notre Dame’s starting lineup, were key offensive catalysts, combining for 21 points and 13 steals in the game.
Olivia Miles is built for the moment. pic.twitter.com/kADbhpPY5R— WSLAM (@wslam) March 26, 2022
Olivia Miles is built for the moment. pic.twitter.com/kADbhpPY5R
Notre Dame’s offense was so potent, five days after scoring 108 points in their win over Oklahoma, that NC State coach Wes Moore switched things up at the start of the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack started pressing Notre Dame higher up the floor, forcing Miles as the ball-handler into making tough decisions.
From there, NC State methodically clawed its way back into the game, exploiting Notre Dame’s 16 turnovers for 22 total points. Raina Perez sealed the comeback with under 30 seconds to go, stripping Dara Mabrey of the ball at halfcourt and hitting the layup at the other end to put NC State up 64-63. She then closed out the win with two made free throws.
“I could have done a way better job of getting my team more organized,” Miles said after the game. “I was kind of quiet because I was trying to figure it out for myself, figure out the spots that I can go and get the ball up the floor. That caused some of my team to create turnovers, and I take the blame for that.”
Ivey spoke before practice on Friday about Miles’ leadership being the next step in her career evolution. Being vocal isn’t something that comes naturally to the freshman, so she’s had to push herself into uncomfortable situations to help her team.
“Coach Ivey is a national champion point guard, so she’s seen the worst of it, and she knows and she helps me,” Miles said.
A game like Saturday’s, though demoralizing for the way it ended, only strengthens that bond between a coach and her star player.
From now until the start of preseason next fall, Ivey can mull over Miles’ performance and the fact her team was 30 seconds away from upsetting No. 1 seed NC State and advancing to the Elite Eight. But she won’t be thinking about it that way.
Niele Ivey doesn’t have time to dwell on the past when her present and future are so bright.
“I was told, oh, you’re going to need three to four years. Well, I needed one,” Ivey said. “I’m hoping that what we showed as a program and as a team, I hope that attracts even more talented players to want to play for this family.”
Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.