An unsweet ending for Notre Dame women's basketball shouldn't deter the Irish's potential next season

The first half of the Sweet Sixteen showdown between Notre Dame and Oregon State was keeping the Irish from getting momentum.

There was a clock issue in the first half, followed by NCAA officials telling star freshman Hannah Hidalgo to take her nose ring out in the second quarter.

Hidalgo sat for a while as assistants removed her nose ring. 

"I didn't know what happened, so I guess it was a point of emphasis in the Sweet Sixteen with jewelry and she's had a nose ring the entire season," Irish head coach Niele Ivey said. "Just wish we would have known beforehand. Can't control it, so we had to move on."

The nose ring issue, which was never an issue for Hidalgo before in the regular season and postseason up until Friday, was one of the few on-paper weird aspects of Notre Dame's 70-65 loss to Oregon State in the Sweet Sixteen.

"Stoppage of play is never great when you're trying to have flow," Ivey said.

The unsavory, "what-if" filled loss ends the Irish's season. But, an offseason of massive potential awaits.

Notre Dame, given its returnees, newcomers and potential in the transfer portal, could be national championship contenders next season.

"We're going to be healthy," Ivey said. "We have an incredible post coming in, and it's going to be exciting."

With so much going against the Irish heading into Friday – the injuries, short-handed bench and size mismatch against the Beavers – Notre Dame needed to rally behind its young star in Hidalgo and experienced scorers.

The Irish did.

Down by 10 at one point in the second half, Notre Dame rallied. Hildago struggled on Friday with a 4 for 17 shooting day with 10 points, but Maddy Westbeld and Sonia Citron carried the offense by combining for 41 points. The Irish had a 59-57 lead with 4:19 in the fourth.

It was an example of how the team found ways to rally, especially in the last 10 games.

Through the regular season, the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame found ways to win. The Irish almost found another way Friday, forcing Oregon State into 26 turnovers and recording 13 steals.

But, the magic couldn't last against a team that was bigger and had more experience in its guard rotation. There's nothing wrong with that, either, considering what the Irish could be next season.

"These type of moments, therefore, is part of our journey, is part of our growth as a program, as a team, and being able to win the ACC, being ACC champions, we're going to learn from all the wonderful experiences that we've received this season," Ivey said. "We've had so much growth this year, and I'm really, really excited for the team that's returning. It's going to be incredible to see."

Westbeld has a year of edibility left. Hidalgo is back as a sophomore, and Citron will return as a senior, too. Also returning are Olivia Miles, the second-team All-American in 2022 who missed the entire 2023-2024 season, Kylee Watson, who'll recover from her torn ACL suffered in the ACC Tourney.

The biggest factor is 6-foot-4 center Kateryna Koval, the No. 5-rated player in the class of 2024.

That's a starting five of Hidalgo, Miles, Citron, Westbeld and Koval.

If Koval finds a way to contribute like Hidalgo did this season, Notre Dame has a chance to compete in a college basketball landscape which will be incredibly different. 

South Carolina will reload, especially if it loses star center Kamila Cardoso to the WNBA Draft next season. LSU might need to do the same with Angel Reese. The Tigers will graduate scorer Hailey Van Lith, for certain. Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark is leaving for the WNBA. Stanford's Cameron Brink is doing the same.

If more players depart for the WNBA as some expect them to, the door will open for the Irish.

That door will stay open due to the strides Notre Dame made this season facing its injuries and short-handed line up head on.

"There's so much good, this program, this team," Ivey said. "We have great firepower coming back. You can't teach experience, especially for Hannah. That's what my entire team has received this year. It is a phenomenal year."

Next year won't come soon for the Irish. The offseason has to begin, and the next season won't begin until next October.

But, Notre Dame has plenty to look forward to. It has time to recover and refocus. The process of it all is something that's never lost on Ivey.

"It's been such an incredible road, the process, the growth." Ivey said. "That's what I love as a coach, to see where we are now from that moment and what you're speaking on. It's been just tremendous. I'm really proud of them."


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