EVANSTON, Ill. — After beating Penn in its home opener last Saturday, Northwestern (1-2, 0-0 B1G) fell to No. 9 Notre Dame (3-0, 0-0 ACC) 92-58 as the ‘Cats moved to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season.
Northwestern struggled offensively as Notre Dame’s physical defense didn’t allow a single Wildcat scorer in double digits. Melannie Daley led the Northwestern effort with eight points. Caileigh Walsh, who left the game after getting ejected for coming off the bench during the second quarter, added seven points.
For the Fighting Irish, Sonia Citron lit the ‘Cats ablaze with 24 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, while Olivia Miles added 21 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Kylee Watson got the scoring started for Notre Dame, making a nice move on Caileigh Walsh to finish at the basket. Moments later, Watson tried a similar move, but Walsh was up to the task this time, playing good post defense on the 6-foot-4 forward.
Northwestern looked sloppy in the first few minutes, getting beaten in transition, not converting on its opportunities in the paint and being late on their defensive rotations to fall behind 9-0.
Walsh responded however, kickstarting the offense with a three pointer. On the next possession, Jillian Brown knocked one from deep too.
But Notre Dame swung the momentum back, using its superior size inside with good looks at the bucket from Lauren Ebo. Ebo pressured the defense and forced head coach Joe McKeown to put Paige Mott in for Walsh, who picked up her second foul trying to defend Ebo.
Mott made an instant impact, cashing in on two quick layups, one of which came off a beautiful feed from Caroline Lau. Mott also sank one of two from the line after forcing a foul on Ebo with her offensive determination in the paint. She also showed her hustle on the other side of the ball, getting back in transition for a chase down block on Dara Mabrey that helped Northwestern stay within striking distance as the first quarter ended with the ‘Cats down 21-14.
Back from the quick break, Courtney Shaw struck first for Northwestern, finishing inside to cut the lead to five. But Mabrey answered back for the Fighting Irish, knocking down her first shot of the night from out behind the arc. Sonia Citron knocked down back-to-back threes for Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish used effective ball movement to beat NU’s slow defensive rotation.
That’s when Notre Dame’s defense turned it up a notch, blocking a Jasmine McWilliams drive to the rim and forcing a stepback three pointer from Walsh that clanked off the iron.
Citron kept it going as the ‘Cat killer, connecting once again from downtown, while adding a nice midrange jumper and a fast break layup to bring her tally to 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting with two minutes left in the first half.
Moments later, tempers flared as both teams got tied up under the basket, resulting in technical fouls on Notre Dame’s Natalija Marshall and Olivia Miles, as well as Mott. After moments of discussion, the referees chose to eject Walsh, Shaw and McWilliams for coming off the bench during the incident.
To close out the first half, Mercy Ademusayo knocked down a last second hook shot for Northwestern to go into halftime down 47-30. The ‘Cats got out-rebounded in the first half 31-14, as their sloppy play defensively and inability to box out Notre Dame’s bigs became their biggest weakness heading into the break.
To kick off the second half, Notre Dame got back on the attack with Citron cashing in for two inside, and Olivia Miles viciously attacking the rim off the dribble in the half court and in transition. Miles had three layups and three points from the charity stripe in the span of three minutes, before getting taken out after falling awkwardly on her foot.
The Fighting Irish continued to move the ball effectively. Their unselfish play set up threes for Dara Mabrey and Maddy Westbeld as Notre Dame’s lead continued to balloon.
Down by 30, Lau opened her scoring, going three of four from the line, as her aggressive dribbling sent her to the charity stripe twice. Spending six minutes as Northwestern’s primary ball handler in the third quarter, Lau’s sloppy play showed that she’s still adjusting to the college game, but at the same time she showcased her ability off the dribble and as a passer setting up opportunities for her teammates inside.
With a minute left in the third quarter, the two squads got into it again, with referees calling technical fouls on Northwestern’s Hailey Weaver and Miles. That was Miles’s second technical foul of the game, earning her an ejection. She was helped off the court by a cheering home crowd.
Even up by 30 heading into the final frame, Notre Dame continued to keep some of its starters in the game as it began to put the cherry on top of its comfortable outing. But Kaylah Rainey wasn’t discouraged by the deficit, running up five straight points for the ‘Cats.
From there, both teams scored a few more baskets to finish out the blowout.
The ‘Cats will get the opportunity to bounce back this Saturday as they’ll continue their non-conference schedule against Southern Illinois at 2 p.m. CT.