GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)Niele Ivey is asking for her 10th-ranked Notre Dame team for more with star guard Olivia Miles out with a knee injury. It’s hard to imagine Sonia Citron answering that call any better.
Citron had 28 points for a season-high scoring output for the second straight game, helping the Fighting Irish beat three-time reigning champion North Carolina State 66-60 in Friday’s quarterfinals at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Citron, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, has moved over to point guard to run the offense in addition to upping her own production. It’s a big reason why the Irish (25-4) won the regular-season title to begin with, and have now advanced to the semifinals to face Louisville.
“I’m definitely still learning, but I’m getting a lot of help from my teammates and my coaches,” Citron said, adding: “Yeah, I think I can do it. I’m going to continue to just try to do the best for my team.”
Maddy Westbeld added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame, which emerged from a grinding second period in which both teams struggled to make shots by coming out of halftime strong to wrestle away control. Notre Dame led by as many as 14 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Miles, a first-team all-ACC performer who excels as a scorer and a playmaker, went down with a knee injury in last weekend’s win at Louisville that clinched the regular-season crown on a play that left Miles pounding her fist into the court in pain. Citron had 27 points to help the Irish survive, then came through with another strong showing to open tournament play.
This time, she made 8 of 18 shots, 11 of 15 free throws and hit a fourth-quarter 3-pointer to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
“I know Soni is capable of doing whatever I ask, that’s what I do know,” Ivey said. “Now I didn’t think that was going to be running the point. … She’s the most unselfish player I think I’ve ever been around.”
Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers each scored 14 points to lead the eighth-seeded Wolfpack (20-11), who had won 10 straight ACC Tournament games since the start of the three-year title run in 2020.
But N.C. State – playing again without top scorer Diamond Johnson due to a lingering ankle injury – shot just 30% after the opening period and made just 2 of 15 3-pointers for the game. The Wolfpack fell behind in a double-digit hole in the third quarter and just couldn’t erase the gap even after going to full-court pressure to speed up the game late that got them within two possessions multiple times.
“I don’t feel like we played anywhere near like what we’re capable of doing and we lost by six points,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack started off this week’s tournament with Thursday’s second-round win against 9-seed Syracuse to extend the long tournament winning streak, which gave Moore his 800th career win. N.C. State led this one 18-14 after a strong opening quarter, but managed just four points on 2-for-13 shooting in the second with the chance to grow the lead.
“I just thought yesterday we were the team that was excited and really came out with some energy,” Moore said. “It’s a lot more fun when you have that. I don’t know why today we just seemed a little bit more subdued.”
Notre Dame: Things aren’t getting easier. The Irish had already lost starter Dara Mabrey to a season-ending injury before Miles went down last week at Louisville. Miles sat alongside Mabrey for this one, getting up at one point to offer advice to freshman Cassandre Prosper before slowly and gingerly making the few steps back to her seat. Notre Dame also saw reserve Natalija Marshall spend the second half with an icebag pressed to her right eye after taking an inadvertent elbow from Prosper on a second-quarter rebound attempt.
“One thing I know about my team,” Ivey said, “is that we are tough.”
N.C. State: Will await its NCAA Tournament seeding.
Notre Dame: Meets fourth-seeded Louisville on Saturday.
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