SOUTH BEND — A lot has changed since Notre Dame and Mississippi State played for the national championship in 2018.
Still both teams know the history with the game ending on Fighting Irish guard Arike Ogunbowale's 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Notre Dame the 61-58 win.
“When you show the highlights and the beauty of the women’s game, that was a moment that is always going to be in that reel,” Bulldog coach Sam Purcell said. “You appreciate that moment.”
In the five years since, both teams have missed multiple NCAA Tournaments and undergone coaching changes, including Purcell taking over the Bulldogs this season.
On Sunday, his No. 11 Mississippi State (22-10) squad will take on the third-seeded Irish (26-5) in the second round.
“The storyline is just how cool that women’s basketball survived both programs,” Purcell said. “Notre Dame has had their bumps. Obviously, they had a great run but they had a little stretch there where they had some hiccups but are back. Mississippi State had that run and we had some 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 second-team All-American guard Olivia Miles out for the remainder of the season with an undisclosed right knee injury.
Sonia Citron, who leads Notre Dame with 14.7 points per game, has assumed lead ball-handling responsibilities for the first time in her career. She finished with a season-high six assists and zero turnovers in an 82-56 win over Southern Utah on Friday in the first round.
“Sonia is my all-purpose player,” Ivey said. “She does whatever we need.”
On Sunday, the sophomore guard will face a much more formidable challenge against Mississippi State’s undersize-yet-athletic backcourt.
“They may be a little bit bigger, but we’re a lot faster,” Bulldog guard Anastasia Hayes said. “We’ll have to pressure them up a little bit more. We’ve played against bigs all year, playing in the SEC, playing against teams like them. So we’re familiar with it, and I feel like this is a challenge that we can handle.”
Mississippi State holds the size advantage in the post with 6-5 center Jessika Carter, who should contend with Notre Dame’s starting frontcourt of Maddy Westbeld, Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson. Each stand at 6-foot-3 or 6-4 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 first season at Mississippi State.
She scored 22 points in a 70-56 win against No. 11 Illinois in a First Four matchup on Wednesday. She followed that up on Friday with 14 points and 10 rebounds in an 81-66 blowout victory over No. 6 Creighton in the first round.
“Mississippi State is coming off of two great wins,” Ivey said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder. It’s going to be an incredible athletic matchup. They have great size. They have great guards. It’s going to be a fast-paced game.”
Guard JerKaila Jordan dropped 20 points against the Bluejays, connecting on four of five 3-point attempts. Mississippi State hit 11 shots from beyond the arc on Friday, tying a season-high.
Notre Dame is the host team, but it’s clear the Bulldogs have enjoyed playing in South Bend this week.
“We’re very comfortable on this court,” Hayes said. “We’ve been here for a few days, so we’ve gotten to be around the rim, and honestly, I think we really like this court.”
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