GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey has been exactly where star point guard Olivia Miles is now -- sitting on the sideline with a knee injury, unable to play in the biggest games of the season.
So Ivey has worked extra hard to focus on Miles since she was lost for the season with a knee injury she sustained in the regular-season finale against Louisville in late February. While making sure Miles remains an integral part of the team, Ivey has also focused on her players on the court and watched them flourish without their All-ACC leader.
Despite the loss of Miles and guard Dara Mabrey earlier in the season, the Irish made it to the Sweet 16, where they will get a rematch against Maryland on Saturday. Ivey has seen a resilience and toughness develop in her team from the moment Miles went down, and that has only grown in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
"I felt like after Olivia went down, our toughness was what we identified," Ivey said. "Once we found that, they've really put that on their shoulders. Because it took a while to figure out who were we going to be now without Olivia, and that was something that we had to figure out in practice. I put them in a lot of really tough situations and scenarios to try to really force them to figure out who they were."
It hasn't been easy, particularly for Miles, who emerged this season not only as the team's leader but as one of the best players in college basketball. This is Miles' first major injury, and Ivey conceded the first few weeks after she got hurt were "really challenging. She struggled with it."
Ivey went back to her own playing days at Notre Dame, when she suffered a season-ending knee injury five games into her freshman season and watched as the Irish made it to the 1997 Final Four. Then in 1999, she suffered another knee injury in nearly similar circumstances to Miles', late in the season with her team set to make an NCAA tournament run. Notre Dame lost in the second round to LSU, with Ivey on the sideline watching.
"I've been in her shoes," Ivey said. "I've tried to be really intentional about making sure she's engaged. I'm texting her almost every day, making sure in practice I'm talking to her about what did she see in practice, what did she see in the game. On the bench, she is my point guard, but after I tell the team my thoughts, I'm like, 'Make sure you go talk to Sonia [Citron]. So she still has that voice. She still has that impact on the side because she sees the game so well. Our team trusts her so much that she still is a valuable voice for me in the games, in the locker room and in practice."
Citron has taken on an even larger role with Miles out, one she has embraced. Notre Dame does not have an expansive roster, so each player has understood they have had to do a little extra to get the team to this point. Ivey said she asked the team to do 10% more after Mabrey went down, and then another 10% more after Miles got hurt.
"We don't have a big team," Citron said. "I think everyone is just rising up and just doing a little bit more. We've been working hard for this."
Miles made the trip to Greenville, but declined comment. Her teammates spoke about trying to give Miles and Mabrey (out since January with a torn ACL) as much support as possible, knowing how difficult it is for them to not be on the court.
"They also are going through something that they've never had to go through before, and just meeting with them and spending quality time with them and actually seeing how they're doing," forward Maddy Westbeld said. "Because they have a lot of people reaching out, and sometimes that can be overwhelming. Just congratulating them on every little accomplishment that they have every day can go a long way. So I think just being there emotionally for them is really important for them and it's really important for us."