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Citron and Hidalgo pace Irish to 81-67 win over Kent State in women's NCAA opener

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Sonia Citron scored 29 points and Hannah Hidalgo added a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists to help No. 2-seed Notre Dame beat 15th-seeded Kent State 81-67 on Saturday in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Citron was 13 of 20 from the field in tying a career high for points. Hidalgo added six steals for the Irish (27-6), who play Monday in the second round. Fordham transfer Anna DeWolfe scored 12 points in her NCAA debut.

Katie Shumate led Kent State (21-11) with a double-double 20 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Janae Tyler scored 18.

Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey was pleased with Citron’s production as Kent State extended its defense to try and limit Hidaldo’s space to create. The Fighting Irish Freshman point guard is No. 3 in the nation in scoring with an average of 23.3 points a game.

“(Citron) was fantastic tonight, and she’s exactly … she’s what we needed as far as just settling our offense down,” Ivey said. “Again, we took a couple of outside jumpers and didn’t get a lot of the (offensive) boards that I wanted, and we were kind of one shot and done. I thought when the ball went through her hands, something great happened.”

A relentless defensive effort in the first quarter set a dominating tone for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish used an 18-0 run on the way to building a 22-5 lead, harassing Kent State into a stretch of 0-for-13 shooting.

Notre Dame built the advantage to 49-30 at the half. The Fighting Irish hit six of their first nine shots from 3-point range and also had the transition game in high gear, racing to a 13-0 advantage in fastbreak points. The Notre Dame finished with a 21-3 fastbreak point advantage.

Kent State wouldn’t let Notre Dame romp into the next round. The Flashes closed the deficit to 67-55 with 5:30 left in the game as Notre Dame combatted foul trouble by switching to a zone from a high-energy man-to-man that sparked the early dominance.

“We tried to make it interesting down the stretch, and that was our goal to let everyone know, win or lose in this game, that Kent State was here and that we compete and we play together,” Kent State head coach Todd Starkey said. “I’m really proud of our team, the way we played.”

Citron countered Kent State’s push with a 3 and then cashed in on the next possession with a baseline cut to the hoop, scoring off a stunning dish from Hidalgo.

Hidalgo then delivered the knockout punch with a driving basket as she was fouled. Her free throw capped a 10-2 run and put the Fighting Irish up by 20 points at 77-57 with 3:41 left in the game.

“I think my teammates were just finding me, and I was just getting good positions to shoot, and I was knocking them down,” Citron said. “Then I think I was getting a lot of my points off of just transitioning, so it’s pretty easy (when it’s) just open layups.”

Starkey said Kent State’s rough start wasn’t due to poor shooting selection.

“I thought the shots that we got in the first half were good shots,” Starkey said. “They just didn’t go down. Some of the first quarter shots, you were watching the same game I did, the ball was halfway down and bounced around and bounced out, and theirs just went in.”

Shumate’s 20-11 double-double against Notre Dame was similar to her double-double at LSU (22 points, 11 rebounds).

“You know, I’m not upset at all about the way we went out,” Shumate said. “We won our MAC Championship, and I got to play with these girls, and I think especially playing here it was really fun. It was a great environment.”

UP NEXT:

The Irish play the winner of Ole Miss and Marquette in the second round.

BIG PICTURE

Kent State: The future is bright for the Flashes with the emergence of the Freshman Tyler as an inside force.

Notre Dame: Foul trouble tested the Fighting Irish a bit as Maddy Westbeld, Natalija Marshall and Hannah Hidalgo each had four fouls. Notre Dame only used two players off the bench and was outscored 20-10 in bench points.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness