From the tears during the Louisville senior day ceremony before the game to the tears of Olivia Miles and Hailey Van Lith when they had to miss time on the court, Sunday afternoon’s game between the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville was an emotional one.
It was also a physical one, with the Irish prevailing 68-65 to win the ACC regular season championship outright. They got help from Duke’s loss to North Carolina.
Miles, who is in the running for ACC Player of the Year, landed awkwardly with 2:35 to go in the second quarter and remained on the floor with apparent pain in her right knee. She was able to walk off the court with a slight limp, later returning with an ice pack on her knee before eventually being seen with her entire leg wrapped. She did not get back on the court in the contest.
Even more significant than winning the ACC regular-season trophy will be the health of Miles moving forward, as having the best chance possible of winning the NCAA Tournament is more important than the regular-season accomplishment. Miles’ emotional display, crying while talking to her dad even after returning to the bench, could indicate that she already knows she will miss an extended period of time. However, that is only speculation as nothing has been announced by Notre Dame.
Notre Dame (24-4, 15-3 ACC) is already missing sharpshooter Dara Mabrey, whose career heartbreakingly ended with an ACL injury suffered on Jan. 22. Miles, unlike Mabrey, is still just a sophomore, but doesn’t want to miss any more of this special season with national-championship contention a reality.
I felt like Notre Dame was the best team in #ACCWBB at the beginning of the season. Impressive to win regular-season crown after Mabrey went down and Miles missed most of today's game.— Zack Ward (@Zack_L_Ward) February 26, 2023
Cassandre Prosper (11 points) made the game-sealing defensive rebound and free throws with six seconds remaining Sunday. Louisville leading scorer Hailey Van Lith missed a three that would have tied that game before Prosper was able to end the Cardinal possession.
Notre Dame’s Sonia Citron dropped a game-high 27 points on 3-of-6 shooting from deep and 10-of-14 shooting at the stripe and seemed to make all the key baskets.
Mykasa Robison, who was one of the Cardinal seniors honored before the game, made a layup that cut it to 66-63 with 35 seconds to go and Citron missed two free throws at 18 seconds to leave the door open. But Prosper made it 68-63 twelve seconds later.
Down 62-57 with 2:04 to go, Louisville (21-10, 12-6 ACC) got a lucky break when Lauren Ebo ran into and knocked Robinson to the ground, resulting in an intentional foul call that sent Van Lith to the line for two freebies that cut it to 62-59. Citron would fight for her team to get more breathing room with two 2-of-2 efforts from the line after that, both of which pushed the lead to five.
Citron had already forged a five-point lead (60-55) at 3:53 remaining with a deep three off a broken play that broke Louisville’s back. She also made the two free throws at 5:30 remaining that gave Notre Dame its first lead since the 15-second mark of the first. Before that, KK Bransford made a spin move and layup that cut the Cards’ lead to 53-52. Bransford was huge with 14 points on the day (7-of-11 from the field). Maddy Westbeld added nine for the winners.
Louisville’s largest lead was 38-28 at the 8:17 mark of the third. The Irish cut it to four four times in the third before finally cutting it to three entering the fourth. At 1:12 to go before the final frame, Citron inadvertently elbowed Van Lith in the nose and Van Lith had to exit because she was bleeding. She tried to return amid Olivia Cochran free throws at the 47-second mark, but was told she was still bleeding. When she did return in the fourth, the dried blood that could be seen around her nose spoke to just how tough the game was. Van Lith finished with a Cardinal-high 23 points (10-of-12 on free throws) to go along with seven boards and three helpers.
When Miles exited, Louisville led 26-22. Cochran went 3-of-4 on one trip down the court to make it 29-22 before two Van Lith free throws made it 31-22. The Cards led 33-24 at the break. The game was back and forth up to the point when Miles was injured.
Robinson notched six points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals in defeat. Notre Dame won field goal percentage 47.1 to 34.5.
Notre Dame was a No. 3 seed in ESPN’s Friday Bracketology; Louisville was a No. 6 seed.