Skylar Diggins drives to the basket for a layup.

#2 Irish Overpower Iowa To Reach Sweet Sixteen

March 26, 2013

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Skylar Diggins hit the layup, drew the foul and pumped her fist as though she was playing in South Bend rather than Iowa City.

The Fighting Irish have made the road as comfortable as home – and that’s a great sign for a team with serious designs on the national championship.

Kayla McBride scored a career-high 28 points and top-seeded Notre Dame advanced to the regional semifinals of the women’s NCAA tournament with a 74-57 win over Iowa on Tuesday night.

Skylar Diggins had 16 as the Fighting Irish (33-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 28 games and finished 13-0 on the road.

Notre Dame will next face 12th-seeded Kansas in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday.

McBride shot 8 for 13 against Iowa’s zone in the first half as the Irish built a 12-point advantage. The lead reached 59-39 on Diggins’ layup with 15:30 left as Notre Dame reached the round of 16 for the 11th time in 17 seasons.

Kayla McBride was phenomenal in the first half against their zone. She got any shot she wanted and was making just about every shot she took,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.

Bethany Doolittle scored 16 points for Iowa (21-13), which went 0 for 11 from 3-point range and had 21 turnovers.

Kayla McBride was phenomenal in the first half against their zone. She got any shot she wanted and was making just about every shot she took.
Muffet McGraw

The favored Irish never let the host Hawkeyes take the lead. Though Iowa managed to threaten Notre Dame’s edge at various points in the first half, the Irish pulled away early in the second half and maintained a comfortable lead throughout.

“We struggled to score,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In the second half we just couldn’t buy a bucket, and for us to go 0 for the 3-point line is pretty unusual.”

Jewell Loyd had 14 points and Natalie Achonwa added 11 with 14 rebounds for Notre Dame.

“If you look at what Jewell did … Skylar able to put up big numbers along with Natalie Achonwa. It just shows the balance this team has and how unselfish it is,” McBride said.

Iowa fared quite well against ranked opponents this season despite an 8-8 mark in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes had beaten seven of the 10 opponents who were ranked when they faced them.

But there’s a big difference between mere ranked teams and Notre Dame, one of a handful of serious national title contenders.

The Hawkeyes immediately discovered the difference.

The Irish hit five of their first seven shots and jumped ahead 15-6. By then, Iowa’s Samantha Logic – who led the Hawkeyes with 23 points in their opening-round rout of Miami – had picked up two fouls.

Logic followed up a strong first-round game with nine points and 11 turnovers.

“I told them `We lost to a great team out there. A team that’s probably going to be playing in the national championship game,”‘ Bluder said. “They have such great balance and really great teamwork. They pass the ball so well, and probably don’t get enough credit for their defense.”

Still, Iowa pulled to 24-18 and ignited the home crowd for the first time. It didn’t last, as Diggins hit a contested mid-range jumper and McBride pulled up for a long 3 and a 31-18 edge.

McBride had two more momentum-busting 3s from nearly the same spot to put Notre Dame up 46-34 at halftime.

McBride, fresh off her first double-double of the season, matched her career high of 26 points early in the second half.

The Irish had their first 20-point lead a few minutes later.

It’ll be neutral courts the rest of the way for the Irish, and they believe their mental toughness will be key as the opponents only get tougher from here on out.

“This team has played in so many tough atmospheres,” Diggins said. “We’re used to this experience of playing on the road. Iowa was another tough environment that we had to overcome if we wanted to keep dancing.”

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame advances to the NCAA regional semifinals (Sweet 16) for the fourth consecutive season, fifth time in six years and 11th time in program history (all since the 1996-97 season) … the Fighting Irish are one of six teams in the country to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 at least 11 times in the past 17 years (others are Connecticut, Tennessee, Duke, Georgia and Stanford) … Notre Dame improves to 39-18 (.672) all-time in NCAA Championship play, including a 13-1 (.929) record as a No. 1 seed … the Fighting Irish were playing a true road game in the first or second rounds of the NCAA Championship for the ninth time in 20 appearances (5-4 record), and the second time in three years (also a 67-54 first-round win at Utah in 2011) … the 17-point margin of victory was Notre Dame’s largest in nine NCAA Championship road games, edging out the 74-59 win at top-seeded Texas Tech on March 15, 1998 … Notre Dame rises to 22-2 (.917) all-time in the NCAA Championship when it holds its opponent to 60 points or fewer … conversely, the Fighting Irish reached the 70-point mark for the 18th time in their last 21 tournament games, and are 15-3 (.833) in those contests … Notre Dame moves to 46-49 (.484) all-time against Big Ten Conference opponents, including a 17-26 (.395) record on the road; the Fighting Irish also are 39-34 (.534) against Big Ten teams in the 26-year Muffet McGraw era and have won 18 of their last 24 games against the Big Ten (including all three this season, tacking on wins over Ohio State and Purdue during the regular season non-conference slate) … Tuesday marked Notre Dame’s first win over a Big Ten opponent in the NCAA Championship since April 1, 2001, when the Fighting Irish defeated Purdue, 68-66, in St. Louis to win the program’s first national championship … Notre Dame jumps to 2-0 all-time against Iowa, with both wins coming at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (the other was a 61-50 victory on Nov. 17, 1996, in the second round of the Preseason WNIT) … the Fighting Irish extend their school-record winning streak to 28 games, one shy of matching the 1965-67 Notre Dame men’s tennis team for the second-longest streak in any fully-sponsored NCAA Championship sport in school history (2001 softball holds the record at 33 games, while men’s/women’s fencing have streaks of 122 and 89 matches, respectively, but less than 50 schools across all three NCAA divisions offer the sport at the varsity level) … with Tuesday’s victory, Notre Dame completes the 2012-13 season undefeated on the road at 13-0, a first in program history … the 13 road wins tie the 1996-97 Fighting Irish squad for the most in program history (that club went 13-4 on the road en route to a berth in the NCAA Women’s Final Four) … Notre Dame has won 29 of its last 34 road games, with its last road defeat coming on March 6, 2012 (a 63-54 decision at Connecticut in the BIG EAST title game at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.) … Notre Dame has had four players score in double figures in 21 games this season and is 73-4 (.948) in the past four years when it has four double-digit scorers, including an active 43-game winning streak that dates back to Feb. 28, 2011 (70-69 loss at DePaul) … for the fourth time this season, junior guard Kayla McBride registered a career scoring high, with Tuesday’s production surpassing her previous best of 26 points against Connecticut on March 4 at Purcell Pavilion … McBride is the second Fighting Irish player in as many NCAA Championship games to post a career scoring high, following a 27-point effort by freshman guard Jewell Loyd in Sunday’s first-round win over Tennessee-Martin … McBride’s 28 points were the most scored by a Notre Dame player in an NCAA postseason game since March 20, 2012, when Natalie Novosel tallied 28 points in a second-round win over California at Purcell Pavilion … McBride is the first Fighting Irish player to make four three-pointers in a single half since March 25, 2012, when Kaila Turner sank four treys in the second half of an NCAA Raleigh Regional semifinal win over St. Bonaventure in Raleigh, N.C. … junior forward Natalie Achonwa collected her school-record 17th double-double of the season on Tuesday, passing Katryna Gaither’s previous mark for double-doubles in one campaign (Gaither had 16 during the 1996-97 season, getting her final one in game No. 38, a Final Four loss to Tennessee) … with three steals on Tuesday, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins has tied her own school record for steals in one season (102, set last year) … Notre Dame will face Kansas in the NCAA Norfolk Regional semifinals at noon (ET) Sunday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk, Va. — the game will be televised live on ESPNHD and ESPN3/WatchESPN … fans wishing to purchase tickets for Notre Dame’s regional semifinal game on Sunday in Norfolk should contact the Old Dominion University athletics ticket office (757-683-4444; and mention they are Notre Dame supporters — single-session tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for youth/senior/military, while an all-session pass (good for Sunday’s two regional semifinals and Tuesday’s regional final) is $40.