Irish unconcerned with numbers game against Oregon State

Mar. 28—ALBANY, N.Y. — Notre Dame has grown accustomed to being outnumbered.

Junior guard Olivia Miles hasn't played since suffering a season-ending knee injury late last season. Sophomore guard Cassandre Prosper played just five games this year because of a lower leg injury. And, though she's back in the lineup now, junior guard Sonia Citron missed nine games with a right knee injury.

Coach Niele Ivey has used a six-player rotation for most of the last month, but it hasn't kept Notre Dame (28-6) from catching fire.

The Fighting Irish won the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament to earn a No. 2 seed in the big dance and haven't lost since Feb. 15.

Notre Dame rides a 10-game winning streak into Friday's Albany 1 Regional semifinal against No. 3 seed Oregon State (26-7).

"The players know exactly what they need to do," Ivey said of playing with a short bench. "I have players that have a very disciplined recovery session, and they know exactly for them what they need to do. There's some times that I just do walk-throughs. There's some times that I have multiple players that are on the bike, not practicing.

"So we've done this all season long. So they know exactly what to expect. They know exactly how to take care of their bodies after games."

All that work on physical fitness will be tested against the Beavers.

Oregon State's strength is in the paint where forwards Raegan Beers (17.5 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) and Timea Gardiner (11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds) reside.

The Beavers also get 10.9 points and 4.9 assists from guard Talia von Oelhoffen, who shoots 33.1% from 3-point range.

"They have a lot of balance, a lot of depth, a lot of height," Ivey said. "They're averaging seven, almost eight threes a game, great size. Their two best players are their post players, at Timea Gardiner being the Sixth Woman of the Year in the Pac-12. Just amazing.

"I think for us (the key is) just managing their physicality, their size, but also their ability to shoot from the 3-point line. We're going to be very strategic (Friday), trying to attack the things that they have defensively but also finding ways to contain their posts and rebounds."

The Irish will counter with perhaps the nation's finest freshman.

Guard Hannah Hidalgo has been the engine behind the late-season winning streak, and she leads Notre Dame with 22.9 points and 5.6 assists while adding 6.2 rebounds per game.

If she ever was a secret at any point this season, that certainly no longer is the case.

"She impacts the game in so many ways," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. "Her pace and her speed is special. Her skill set is special. Her ability to score is special, and her ability to disrupt defensively is special. She's gotten the keys to the team. She plays with that confidence and that swagger that she has the green light. So give Niele a lot of credit for building her up like that."

Citron (17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 36.6% 3-point shooting) and senior forward Maddy Westbeld (14.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 37.3% 3-point shooting) provide veteran support.

They also have valuable NCAA Tournament experience. Both were part of Ivey's Sweet 16 teams in the previous two seasons, and they hunger to push deeper into March — perhaps even into April.

"We've been in this position before," Citron said. "We're used to it. We know how to handle it."

For Westbeld, family ties make the postseason experience and the legacy of the program run even deeper.

Her sister, Kathryn, was a starter for the Irish's national championship team in 2018.

Westbeld attended those games as a fan, dreaming of one day playing on the same stage.

The memories still are fresh as she prepares for Friday's regional semifinal.

"I remember a lot," Westbeld said. "I remember sneaking away after the games to go shoot in the back gym. I also remember I think one of my favorite games to watch Notre Dame was the Tennessee game that they played (during) their national championship year. I remember they lost to Louisville, like just got blown out by Louisville, and then the next game they were down by close to 20 against Tennessee and they came back and won.

"I think after that, it was like this is a team that shows so much grit, and I think everybody at that point knew this was such a special year for them. Just watching that in the stands and watching how calm my sister was throughout that whole process, it was just like, 'This is an incredible place.'"