The Freshman Phenom: Hannah Hidalgo Feature

Author: J.J. Post

Hannah Hidalgo pointing during a basketball game"

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment Hannah Hidalgo became destined to join the long list of Notre Dame icons in women’s college basketball.

Was it the McDonald’s high school All-American Game, when she set the contest’s all-time scoring record and tied its steals record? Or her first collegiate game, when the rookie sensation poured in 31 points while the rest of the Irish starting lineup combined for just 28? Perhaps it was Notre Dame’s midseason match against UConn, where Hidalgo set a single-game program rookie scoring record to lead the Irish to a victory in Storrs, Connecticut, for the first time in a decade.

Regardless of your preferred marquee moment, the trend remains the same. When the lights are shining brightest, Hannah Hidalgo is at her best.

At first glance, you’d be surprised to discover Hidalgo is one of the country’s best players. She’s faced just two players shorter than her all season. But the former New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year packs a remarkable punch into an otherwise unassuming 5-foot-6 frame.

Regardless of her stature, Hidalgo’s game stands taller than the most towering rim-protecting center. She’s dynamic on the ball and engaged off it. Her mix of competitive fire and defensive intelligence allows her to be one of the best in the business at locking down opposing point guards.

Though her career is just 25 games young, her achievements have come hard and fast. Her 11 ACC Rookie of the Week awards have set a new conference record. She broke the Notre Dame record for most steals in a season… in February with a full six games left in the regular season. As of Feb. 15, she’s either tied or broken eight conference or program records.

Hidalgo has taken it all in stride. The same maturity that allows her to harness her passion into spurts of on-court brilliance filters into a laser-focused demeanor when speaking to media:

“I come into every game with the same mindset – just playing to win,” said Hidalgo. “I just want to win. Whether I do really well or I don’t do well, I just do whatever I can to bring my team to victory.”

Dedicated Irish fans knew Hidalgo would make waves from her first touch of the ball in South Bend. She was, after all, the top-ranked point guard in her high school recruiting class. But her success wasn’t supposed to be this immediate. Notre Dame already has an all-American caliber point guard on the roster in junior Olivia Miles.

Miles finished first on the Irish roster in per-game averages for rebounds, assists and steals, and second in points for the 2022-23 season. It was assumed Hidalgo would serve as her sidekick, at least for a little while, learning the ropes from an upperclassman who at one point had been a wunderkind freshman herself.

But in the final game of Notre Dame’s 2023 regular season, Miles tore her ACL. The Irish willed themselves to a Sweet 16 appearance to end the campaign, but it was clear they weren’t the same squad without their enterprising point guard. To compete in 2024, Notre Dame needed a new sparkplug.

Enter Hidalgo. She played 37 minutes in the Irish’s opener against South Carolina, making herself indispensable in a game where little else went right. It was only the start.

In the last 25 years, only one NBA, WNBA or D1 men’s or women’s player has had a 12-game span with at least 280 points, 70 rebounds, 70 assists and 70 steals — Hidalgo accomplished this feat in the first 12 games of her career per OptaStats. If the initial expectation was for Hidalgo to be a complimentary piece, she quickly proved she’s a system unto herself.

Part of what makes her impact so exceptional is her work on both sides of the ball. She’s currently third in the NCAA in points per game. She leads the nation in steals. It’s not just counting stats either - her dominance continues when you check the advanced metrics. She ranks second in the ACC in usage rate, per Her Hoop Stats. She leads the entire country in defensive win shares.

Hidalgo is Notre Dame’s baseline-to-baseline security blanket, capable of creating havoc the second the ball is inbounded. Her limitless intensity at the point of attack supercharges the rest of the Irish defense. For head coach Niele Ivey, Hidalgo’s presence has a top-down effect:

“When you bring in a player like Hannah Hidalgo, she just changes the energy,” Ivey said. “It’s contagious. Everyone is playing harder defensively because of the way she defends.”

But more important than Hidalgo’s ever-burgeoning talent is her “no I in team” mentality. No matter how tough the bucket, she is always the first player rushing back to defend. When former walk-on Sarah Cernugel laid the ball in against Boston College for her first career ACC points, Hidalgo may have jumped higher in the air than she has for any layup this season.

Averaging nearly 24 points per game in Irish losses, there have been defeats where it felt like Hidalgo was willing the team’s offense along. In a road loss to Louisville, she scored more second-half points than the rest of her teammates combined.

Win or lose, few would blame the New Jersey native if she talked about her personal achievements after games. Her play in nearly every Notre Dame game this year would merit self-congratulation. But that’s not Hidalgo. No matter her stats, no matter the result, the team – and the final score – is her focus.

Born from necessity and justified by performance, the Irish have baptized Hannah Hidalgo by fire. With her usage only growing, the message from Niele Ivey is clear. Notre Dame, both this season and for the next three years, will go as far as their ever-ascending star takes them.