ND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: No. 16 Duke upends No. 9 Irish

Feb. 5—SOUTH BEND — Down two key players due to injury, No. 9 Notre Dame has been forced to play some of its younger players down the stretch of key games in recent weeks.

That inexperience played a part in the Fighting Irish's 57-52 loss to No. 16 Duke Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. The win vaulted the Blue Devils to the top of the ACC women's basketball standings with a 10-2 conference record (20-3 overall).

No. 9 Notre Dame is now 18-4 overall and 9-3 in ACC contests.

"Unfortunately, we fell short (Sunday)," Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. "But I know that it's part of our growth and part of our journey ... when you lose the way we lost (Sunday), it's never easy, but there's always something we can take from it."

The Irish have been without graduate senior Dara Mabrey for the past two weeks after the guard tore her ACL in her right knee against Virginia on Jan. 22. Her replacement in the starting lineup, graduate senior Lauren Ebo, lasted just one game in a starting role before missing games against NC State on Jan. 29, Boston College this past Thursday and Duke Sunday due to a lower body injury.

That forced Ivey to play a smaller lineup and force younger players like freshmen Cassandre Prosper, a mid-season enrollee, and KK Bransford for the majority of the game.

Prosper struggled in the final frame, going 0-of-5 shooting while playing all 10 minutes of the quarter. As a team, Notre Dame made just two of its 13 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter.

"Some of those opportunities were in transition, and we didn't get a chance to capitalize with those," said Ivey of the fourth quarter woes. "Some of our half-court shots, I thought they were good looks that we left a little bit short. I felt like we did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn't nail the shots. We got some wide-open looks."

Despite its offensive struggles, the Irish were able to keep it to a one-possession game for the majority of the fourth quarter due to Duke also going cold from the field. The Blue Devils also took 13 shots in the fourth, hitting on just three of them.

With 15.4 seconds remaining in the game, Notre Dame had possession, trailing 55-52. Junior guard Olivia Miles took the inbounds pass and quickly raced up the court. As Miles went to try and pass the ball to a teammate, though, it was stolen away by Duke sophomore Reigan Richardson.

A few seconds later, Blue Devils senior Elizabeth Balogun sank two free-throws to ice the game away for the visitors.

"I was trying to get a quick score and get (Miles) downhill, so we set kind of a flat screen," said Ivey of the play with 15 seconds left in the game. "That was the idea: get a quick paint touch, turn around, try to get a steal or foul, advance it and then try to run another play."

It was a balanced effort for Duke, who had eight players score in the game. Senior Celeste Taylor led with 14 points, while the Blue Devils also got 21 points from their bench players.

"Just a hard-fought game," Duke coach Kara Lawson said. "They gave us a lot of problems. ... It could've gone either way, and fortunately for us late, we made enough plays to win. They're an excellent team, and I'm proud of my players for finishing the game."

Despite a sluggish first quarter that featured six turnovers, Notre Dame led, 16-12, after 10 minutes of play. They were able to stay in the game because of their strong shooting, going 7-of-14 from the field.

The Irish also made 50% of their shots in the second quarter, making five of the 10 they attempted. It helped them take a 31-25 lead into the halftime locker room.

The key quarter for Duke was the third, as they would outscore the Irish, 23-15, in the frame. They made eight shots total in the frame, including four from beyond the arc. They built the lead to as many as four before settling on a 48-46 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

"I talked to (my players) at halftime about the pace, and we felt like we were leaving some meat on the bone in some transition possessions," Lawson said. "I think in the start of the third quarter, we got a couple layups and passed ahead to lay it in. ... We just said, 'Hey, let's keep running. If we don't have anything while we're running, we can pull it out and run a set (play).'"

For Notre Dame, junior Maddy Westbeld led the scoring with 15 points, playing all 40 minutes due to the lack of depth for the Irish. Sophomore Sonia Citron had 14 points and Miles added 11 to give the home team three scorers in double figures. Miles scored all six points for the Irish in the fourth quarter.

Sunday was the first of a four-game homestand for Notre Dame. It continues Thursday when Pittsburgh (7-15, 0-11 ACC) comes to town for a 6 p.m. contest.

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.