SOUTH BEND, Ind. Delivering a season turning 10-10 to 24-9 and a Sweet 16 ride might be the easy part.
Neil Ivy get it.
The third-year Notre Dame women’s basketball coach and former Irish player and assistant know that the next move – a very big one that will give Notre Dame its tenth appearance in the fourth final – is built on expectations.
So I advanced through the transfer gate, adding 6-foot-4 juniors Kylie Watson from Oregon and 6-4 Lauren Ibo From Texas, the latter started 30 games last season and comes to ND with one year of eligibility.
Their experience with big time software may be just as important as the work they do in painting alongside 6-5 juniors Nat Marshallwho returned after missing the latter half of last season with a knee injury after taking on a red shirt as a freshman.
“I am very excited about what Kylee brings,” Ivey said in Monday’s meeting with the media. “She has a motor, and you guys will see it. … She is the difference maker. … And she is sexy with her explosion.”
If Ivy can tap into the potential that made Watson a top 20 recruit in the enlistment class of 2020 after accumulating modest numbers in Oregon (3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds at 16 minutes per game last season), she will have someone to help beat the loss from graduation Maya Dodsonan All-ACC striker last season.
But Dodson didn’t have the help this crew could provide.
“I mean, with me and Ibo and everyone else who came in, each of us would come up with our own style of play,” Watson said. “So we’re just going to come in and do the little things, grab the rebounds, be present and play really hard. Our guard position is obviously very good. So, we want to be able to adapt and help raise our game there.”
“PT (Playtime) I don’t care. As long as we’re winning and having fun. We’re so close, given how short we’ve known each other, so it’s like if one person succeeds, we all succeed.”
This inner depth is what gives the Irish a slightly different look at the moment for a talented and very familiar lineup.
Four starters return, led by two brilliant sophomore guards at the All-ACC Protection Point Olivia Miles The ACC Rookie of the year Sonia Citron. Ivy is sure there are more offensive tackles than Citron, who scored roughly 12 points per match when shooting 44.9%, including 34.1% in 3 seconds.
“I would like to see her be more aggressive with the ball,” Ivey said of the 6-1 Citron.
The return of the starting guard Dara Mabry He’s the ND’s best three-point shot threat – she’s dropped 13 in three NCAA games – and a 6-3 steady for the juniors. Maddy Westbledwho averaged 11.8 points on nearly 50 percent of shots, will cement a place forward after getting some international experience in August on Team USA 3X3 U23.
“Yeah, we’re very close,” Westbled said. “Even over the holiday season, we spent a lot of time together, and now we’re a really close group with a lot of great characters. You can see how much fun we’re having together. And hopefully fans will see that love for the game.” And the love we have for each other.”
Good chemistry is always a good thing, but it won’t be as important as supporting some issues.
Notre Dame ranked 250th nationally in 3-point defense and 169th in defensive goalscoring a year ago. Her turnover margin wasn’t impressive either.
Ivey said, “Yeah, I mean, I kind of did a deep dive (on the stats during the off-season). I think defending our transition defensively is something I’ve been focusing on. It’s something I think we need a lot better at. You know, taking care of with the ball.
“I’m really focused on our passing on all sides, because I think Liv (Miles) is the best passer in the country, but sometimes within our attack it’s a very free-flowing offense. There are a lot of other players making the decisions. So, that’s something I focus on. He is right.
“But I think defense is a mindset, and that’s something I’m trying to develop with this group, knowing that it’s going to be all about winning but also looking after the ball.
“It’s something I try to develop every day so they know that – I think on my first day I showed them a movie on transitional defense. … So, they know that’s where we’re going to get better this year, and then again, we grow other areas like efficiency 3-point shooting and inside passing too.”
There is more talented depth in the back area with the new student KK Bransfordan All-American McDonald’s, ranked as one of the 30 best recruits and No. 7 Rookie, and Ivey Monday compared him to the former Irish star and current WNBA star. Jacky Young.
Also in this talented combination in the background Jenna Brown, a transfer from Stanford University and a former five-star recruit. She never averaged more than two game points at Stanford, but she struggled with injuries.
Ivy loves Brown’s experience with the top flight program, her skill set and her high basketball IQ. There doesn’t seem to be much depth to any program with a long grind for one season.
Notre Dame numbers will be in or near the top ten when pre-season polls are released, as will many of the ACC teams. And periodically improving the level 12-5 will be a big challenge.
Here’s a first look at what to expect from the group in an exhibition match against Truman State on October 31.