March 28, 2024 

Behind the scenes, Olivia Miles has played a crucial role in Notre Dame’s Sweet 16 run

Sonia Citron: “If we can defend her, we can defend anyone in the country"

ALBANY, N.Y. — It’s mid-February in South Bend, Indiana. Inside Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame is preparing for a Thursday night clash with the then-ranked No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies. Olivia Miles jogs onto the court and tells one of the Fighting Irish’s male practice players to step aside.

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On this day, Miles transforms into Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech’s firecracker Australian point guard who specializes in a free-flowing, creative style of play that leads her to swishing deep 3-pointers behind ball screens and dishing out crisp assists.

“I run with the boys and I kind of get the freedom to just play,” Miles told The Next on Thursday. “With Georgia, I think we play pretty similar, just in the way we pass, drive to the basket, move around. On scout team, you have a lot of restrictions — if the girl is a driver or a shooter — but with Georgia, I could be whatever I wanted to be.”

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This is one of the many ways that Miles has helped Notre Dame behind the scenes this season. Miles hasn’t played in a game for the Irish since Feb. 26, 2023, when she suffered a right knee injury that kept her out of the ACC and NCAA tournaments last year and later required surgery to repair. But Miles has been cleared to practice since February and has done everything in her power to help her teammates advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year, where on Friday they’ll face No. 3 Oregon State in Albany’s MVP Arena.

One could argue the contributions of junior guard can’t be measured by what shows up in the box score this season, but a case could be made that, actually, they can.

Notre Dame beat Virginia Tech at home on Feb. 29, snapping the Hokies’ 10-game winning streak. And Amoore — a First Team All-ACC selection and a Third Team All-American this season — shot just 29.2% from the floor, made just two 3-pointers, and had two turnovers as the Irish won by 13 points.

“It’s been fun,” Miles said. “It’s obviously tough, because I want to play with them, but it’s fun to play against them and compete and get back into the game.”

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She added: “I don’t doubt my contributions. I know I help them a lot. On the scout team, it prepares them, and I love feeling part of it. But there’s that added, like, ‘Dang. I wish I was in it, in it.’ But I definitely feel part of it and feel happy for them.”

Since being cleared to practice, Miles — who is taking a redshirt this season — has been emulating the top offensive weapon on the opposing team that Notre Dame has been preparing to play. The way fellow Notre Dame junior Sonia Citron explains it, the logic is simple.

“If we can defend her, we can defend anyone in the country,” Citron said. “She definitely makes us better. No one wants to guard her, so when she’s the player I have to guard, she definitely challenges me and challenges all of us. She’s an amazing player.”

Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles spins a ball on her finger inside Purcell Pavilion ahead of the Irish's Jan. 7, 2024 game against UNC. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)
Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles spins a ball on her finger inside Purcell Pavilion ahead of the Irish’s Jan. 7, 2024 game against UNC. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam / The Next)

Even before Miles was participating in practice, she was helping Notre Dame in other ways. Sitting on the bench, she was seeing games and big-time opponents — like Tennessee, UConn and Louisville — through a new lens. She was vocal during timeouts and breaks in play, pointing things out to her teammates that she might not have noticed going full speed with the ball in her hands.

“She’s smart,” Notre Dame freshman Hannah Hidalgo said. “Just getting her point of view on the bench … She’s able to come up to me and, you know, talk to the team and say, ‘Look, this is what I see. This is what you guys need to do.’”

Before her injury, Miles had become one of the top players in the sport. She was top 10 in the nation in assists per game as a freshman and a sophomore. She hit buzzer-beaters and talked trash and backed it up. She was an AP All-American honorable mention as a rookie, and made the second team her second full season. The injury to the right knee of the 5-foot-10 native of Phillipsburg, New Jersey derailed a junior year where she likely would have contended for the ACC Player of the Year and a spot on the All-American First Team.

Instead, Hidalgo stepped into that role, both for Notre Dame and in the national conversation. The rookie — and a fellow New Jerseyan — was sixth in the nation in scoring with 22.9 points per game and was first in steals with 4.6 per game while running the point for the Irish. She was voted Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC. Hidalgo poured in 58 points, 18 rebounds, 18 assists and six steals in three days in Greensboro, North Carolina, as Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament title for the first time under fourth-year coach Niele Ivey.

Along the way, Hidalgo has looked up to Miles, calling her recovery and the way she’s strived to help the team “inspiring.”

“I see something in practice that nobody sees,” Hidalgo said.

Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles cuts down the net after Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. on March 10, 2024. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)
Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles cuts down the net after Notre Dame won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam / The Next)

When Notre Dame players climbed the ladder to cut the nets down at the Greensboro Coliseum, Hidalgo went first. Then Citron. And then Miles.

If you ask anyone associated with Notre Dame’s program, Miles deserves as much credit as anyone for the team’s success this season, where they’ve gone 28–6 despite battling injuries and a lack of depth.

“She gives so much. She’s worked so hard to get in this position,” Ivey said. “It’s always really amazing to watch her back on the floor with the team in a jersey playing and doing what she loves.”

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While Notre Dame has contests of utmost importance in front of them — a Sweet 16 bout with the Beavers, and potentially an Elite Eight rematch with No. 1 South Carolina — both Hidalgo and Miles can’t help but think a little bit about next season where, finally, they’ll share a backcourt together in meaningful games.

“Oh, it’s going to be exciting,” Hidalgo said. “We’re going to play great off of each other.”

Miles is especially looking forward to proving the people who say they can’t play together wrong.

“I’m excited,” Miles said. “Everyone is always talking, ‘blah blah this, blah blah that – they can’t do this together, they can’t do that.’ And I just find it funny because no one really knows what’s going on inside, and no one is really ready for what’s about to happen. So, we’re kind of letting everyone talk, but it’s going to be really incredible when it actually happens.”

Written by Mitchell Northam

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