Limited roster not new to Notre Dame; Ole Miss makes defense a priority against Marquette

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Niele Ivey is no stranger to dealing with an injury-plagued roster.

She was an assistant with Notre Dame in 2018 when the team won the NCAA championship and had four players out with season-ending ACL injuries. The Irish also had players dealing with a broken nose as well as various ankle injuries and black eyes.

This season, Coach Niele Ivey’s No. 2 seed Irish (26-6) have dealt with a season-ending hip injury to Emma Risch, and the absence on the court of Junior All-American Olivia Miles since knee surgery last April. Kylee Watson is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL in the ACC Tournament semifinal against Virginia Tech.

The injury-riddled Irish open tournament play at home against No. 15 seed Kent State (21-10) on Saturday. That's followed by the match-up between No. 7 seed Ole Miss (23-8) and No. 10 seed Marquette (23-8).

Ivey said that the 2018 experience has prepared her for how to handle practices and games this season.

“We’re at a time that it’s just survive and advance, so no matter how many numbers we have, you have to come prepared, ready to play,” Ivey said. “For me, I do have the blueprint of what we did during that year (2018) as far as practice, performance, recovery, so I have an idea of those type of things that I implemented those things.

“Unfortunately we had a very similar situation last year …. I’ve just pivoted from the Virginia Tech game, losing Kylee, just have had to pivot, change roles, you know, started a new starter, so when things happen this way, things you can’t control, you just have to pivot, so that’s what I’ve done,” Ivey continued. “I try to lean on those experiences of what I’ve learned as an assistant in that year (2018).

Notre Dame does have Associated Press first-team All-America point Hannah Hidalgo, who is third in the nation in scoring (23.3 points a game) and who leads the nation in steals (4.6 a game).

Kent State head coach Todd Starkey said a priority for his team is not letting Hidalgo take over the game.

“(Hidalgo) just leaps off the screen, right,” Starkey said of his film sessions watching Notre Dame. “The ability she has to anticipate and disrupt the game on the defensive end is rare. She’s got great instincts, and I think that’s what makes her so good is she’s not just a scorer, third in the nation, right. Leads the nation in steals. Leads the team in assists. Second in rebounding. She just affects the game in every statistical category.”

Notre Dame surges into the NCAA Tournament with eight wins a row, which includes cutting down the nets at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Kent State won the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Katie Shumate averages 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game and was the MAC Tournament MVP. Bridget Dunn averages 12.3 points and 13.3 rebounds a game.

DOWNRIGHT DEFENSIVE

Ole Miss coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin got defensive about her team's gritty in-your-face defense that is a trademark of the Rebels.

McPhee-McCuin, who led Ole Miss from an 0-16 SEC record in 2019-2020 to the regional finals last season said that the Rebels’ defense is physical, but clean.

“A lot of coaches like to come in here and use that against us and I don’t think it’s in a positive way, you know, we’re not bush league, we’re not fouling you all over the place,” McPhee-McCuin said of being labeled a ‘physical’ defensive team. “We show our hands. We beat you to spots. We jump and block your shot. We have a system, so it’s really clean and so because we speed you up and you fall, we didn’t make you fall. We just sped you up."

Ole Miss (23-8) ranked fourth in the SEC in defense (59.2 points a game) and is second in the nation in blocks (6.1).

STEPPING AWAY

Ole Miss forward Snudda Collins, who averages 9.6 points a game, didn’t make the trip to South Bend.

“Snudda decided to step back for a second,” McPhee-McCuin said. “I mean, the timing couldn’t be any worse if you ask me. But I support our players. Snudda’s getting ready to graduate. She’s been a part of the program. We did not have talks about her coming back like (Madison Scott). I didn’t know if that would be a possibility anyway. We support her 100 percent.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness