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Preview: Shorthanded No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish seek revenge against No. 20 NC State Wolfpack

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are playing their best basketball since 2019, and this Sunday they’ll have an opportunity to pay the NC State Wolfpack back for a loss in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame will have to do so without guard Dara Mabrey, who will miss the remainder of the season with an ACL injury.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Boston College at Notre Dame
With Dara Mabrey (right) on the mend after suffering an ACL injury, outstanding Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles (left) will have even more on her plate as the Fighting Irish take on ACC rival NC State.
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-2, 8-1 ACC) will aim for their sixth straight win on Sunday when they travel to Raleigh to take on the No. 20 NC State Wolfpack (15-5, 5-4 ACC). The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN and tip-off at 3 p.m. ET.

It’s been an incredible season for the Irish thus far; they have their best record through 19 games since the 2018-19 season, when they reached the NCAA Championship game. Notre Dame is currently outscoring its opponents by 29.6 points per 100 possessions — the seventh-best net rating in Division I — fueled largely by its defense, which is allowing just 77.3 points per 100 possessions.

Another strength of the Irish is their guard play, which took a hit when grad transfer Dara Mabrey went down with an ACL injury in the team’s recent win over Virginia. Mabrey, who was averaging 9.3 points, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game, will miss the rest of the season as she rehabs, though she intends to remain with the team, as explained in a heartfelt statement she posted on Twitter:

Luckily for the Irish, they still have an ACC Player of the Year contender in their backcourt in Olivia Miles. In her second full season at Notre Dame, Miles is stuffing the stat sheet, averaging 15.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field. Not only is Miles a worthy candidate for end-of-season ACC honors, but she’ll also be a favorite to win the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to the nation’s best point guard. If there’s one player Notre Dame can lean on to increase her production, it’s Miles.

NC State, meanwhile, counters with Diamond Johnson, who is living proof that height isn’t everything in basketball. The 5-foot-5 Johnson is currently leading the Wolfpack in both scoring (12.8 points) and assists (3.7) and is shooting 40.9 percent on 5.5 threes attempted per game. While she’s best known for her outside shooting, she’s just as valuable to the Wolfpack as a player who can create shots for her teammates.

While the Wolfpack don’t have as explosive of an offense as the Irish, they’ve been excellent on the glass this season, cleaning up over 75 percent of available defensive rebounds (Her Hoop Stats). NC State also rarely fouls — only seven Division I teams foul at a lower rate than the Wolfpack — so the 4.4 free throw attempts Miles shoots per game may not be there.

It’s also worth mentioning that this is a revenge game of sorts for the Irish, as they were bounced in the Sweet Sixteen in the 2022 NCAA Tournament by NC State. It was a game in which the Wolfpack came from behind and outscored the Irish 20-10 in the final quarter. Sunday’s game will be the only time the two teams meet in the regular season, though it’s entirely possible that they’ll play each other again in the ACC Tournament, which will begin on March 1.