SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A lot has changed since Notre Dame and Mississippi State played for the national championship in 2018.
Yet both teams know the story, with the game ending on Fighting Irish fullback Arike Ogunbowale’s 3-point shot at the buzzer to give Notre Dame the 61-58 victory.
“When you show the highlights and the beauty of the women’s game, it was a moment that will always stay in that reel,” Bulldogs coach Sam Purcell said. “You are enjoying this moment.”
Over the next five years, both teams missed several NCAA tournaments and went through coaching changes, including Purcell taking over the Bulldogs that season.
On Sunday, his No. 11 team from Mississippi State (22-10) will face the third-seeded Irishman (26-5) in the second round.
“The storyline is how well women’s basketball survived both programs,” Purcell said. “Notre Dame has had her bumps. Obviously they had a great run, but they had a little stretch there where they had a few misfires, but they’re back. Mississippi State had this run and we had a few hiccups, and I’m here to say, “We’re back.”
Coach Niele Ivey replaced legendary Notre Dame coach Muffett McGraw in 2020-21. The Irish went 10-10 that season before returning to the NCAA Tournament the following season and reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
Now she must overcome one of her biggest challenges yet with Olivia Miles, second-team All-American guard, out for the rest of the season with an undisclosed right knee injury.
Sonia Citron, who leads Notre Dame with 14.7 points per game, took on the responsibility of heading the ball for the first time in her career. She finished with six assists and zero turnovers in an 82-56 win over Southern Utah on Friday in the first round.
“Sonia is my all-around player,” Ivey said. “She does everything we need.”
On Sunday, the sophomore guard will face a much tougher challenge against Mississippi State’s undersized but athletic backcourt.
“They might be a little bigger, but we’re a lot faster,” Bulldog guard Anastasia Hayes said. “We will have to put them under a little more pressure. We’ve played against greats all year, playing in the SEC, playing against teams like them. So we’re familiar with that, and I feel like it’s a challenge we can take on.
Mississippi State holds the size advantage at the position with 6-5 center Jessika Carter, who is expected to face Notre Dame’s starting box of Maddy Westbeld, Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson. Each stands at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 and scored in double figures against Southern Utah.
Carter leads the Bulldogs with 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in Purcell’s freshman season at Mississippi State.
She scored 22 points in a 70-56 win over No. 11 Illinois in a first-four game on Wednesday. She followed that up Friday with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a blowout 81-66 win over No. 6 Creighton in the first round.
“Mississippi State just had two big wins,” Ivey said. “They play with a chip on their shoulder and we play with a chip on our shoulder. It will be an incredible athletic match. They have a large size. They have great guards. It will be a quick game. »
Guard JerKaila Jordan was down 20 points against the Bluejays, connecting on four of five 3-point attempts. Mississippi State shot 11 from beyond the arc on Friday, tying a season high.
Notre Dame is the host team, but it’s clear the Bulldogs enjoyed playing South Bend this week.
“We’re very comfortable on this court,” Hayes said. “We’ve been here for a few days so we have to be around the edge, and honestly I think we really like this pitch.”
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