March 24, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Notre Dame’s reward for earning a No. 1 seed was a trip to Iowa City and a date with Tennessee-Martin, which hardly resembled a No. 16 seed.
The Fighting Irish can go anywhere and beat anyone if they dominate the paint the way they did against the undersized Skyhawks.
Jewell Loyd scored 27 points and Notre Dame blew past Tennessee-Martin 97-64 on Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Kayla McBride had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Fighting Irish (32-1), who outrebounded UT-Martin 49-14 and enjoyed a 56-22 advantage in points in the paint.
“I thought offensively we really went after it,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We’re capable of getting to the backboards and boxing out. We did a really good job defensively.”
Heather Butler scored 23 of her season-high 37 points in the first half to keep UT-Martin (19-15) in the game. But Notre Dame closed the first half on an 11-0 run and jumped ahead 60-33 with 17 minutes left.
Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins finished with just 10 points and six assists. But the Fighting Irish didn’t need a big game from the guard in their 27th straight win heading into Tuesday’s second-round matchup with Iowa or Miami.
“I thought their size bothered us,” UT-Martin coach Kevin McMillan said. “There were some problems that we couldn’t simulate, that we didn’t have an answer for.”
UT-Martin entered the tournament with one of the nation’s highest scoring backcourts in the 5-foot-5 Butler and the 5-6 Jasmine Newsome, who combine for 45 points a game.
We’re capable of getting to the backboards and boxing out. We did a really good job defensively.
Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw
But Butler and Newsome never saw anything like these Fighting Irish in the Ohio Valley.
Notre Dame was up 10 in less than five minutes, hitting six of its first seven shots for a 14-4 lead.
But instead of folding, the Skyhawks put the ball in Butler’s hands. She keyed a surprising 16-6 run, banking in a pair of 3s and hitting a layup off a nifty back cut to make a game of it.
“She can score in a lot of different ways,” McBride said. “She’s very quick off ball screens, knows when to pull up, knows when to take it to the basket. She gave us a lot of trouble out there.”
Butler had 23 points in just 16 minutes – or 21 more than her counterpart Diggins at that point – and the Skyhawks got as close as 38-31.
“I thought Butler had probably the best individual game anybody had against us all year long,” McGraw said. “She was phenomenal. She played extremely well. What a great performance by her.”
But Diggins had the help that Butler could have used.
Loyd and Natalie Achonwa combined for 31 first-half points, and Notre Dame’s closing run made it an 18-point game at halftime.
The Fighting Irish then scored 11 of the next 13 points to jump ahead 60-33.
Achonwa added 16 points for Notre Dame.
UT-Martin was winless in three games this season against teams that earned a No. 1 seed for the tournament. The Skyhawks lost to Baylor 82-67 and Stanford 92-68 on back-to-back days in November.
But while the Bears, Cardinal and top-seeded UConn all got to open the NCAA tournament at home, Notre Dame was shipped out to Iowa City.
Although Butler made the Fighting Irish nervous for about 20 minutes, the travel certainly wasn’t a factor in the tournament opener. Newsome was held to 15 points.
“The matchup for us was a nightmare because there wasn’t a player on the Notre Dame team we thought we could take advantage of,” McMillan said. “I thought Butler and Newsome were going to have to have monster games for us to compete. To think those two guards go out as a 16 seed, get 52 points and one gets 37, you can’t ask for anymore.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame has won its NCAA tournament opener in 16 of the last 18 seasons, coinciding exactly with its membership in the BIG EAST Conference … Notre Dame’s 97 points were its second-highest offensive output in an NCAA tournament game and most since March 17, 2001, when it defeated Alcorn State, 98-49 in a Midwest Region first-round game at Purcell Pavilion … the Fighting Irish set a program record for free throw percentage in an NCAA tournament game, connecting on a season-best 95 percent (19-of-20) of their foul shots — the previous mark was 91.7 percent (22-of-24) on March 25, 2008, in an NCAA Oklahoma City Region second-round win over Oklahoma in West Lafayette, Ind.; Notre Dame’s prior best free throw percentage this season (on a minimum of 10 attempts) was 94.1 percent at Pittsburgh on Jan. 23 (Notre Dame went 6-for-6 from the line in its BIG EAST title-game win at No. 3 Connecticut on March 12) … the Fighting Irish set a program record for NCAA tournament play by allowing UT Martin to grab just 14 rebounds, five fewer than the previous low-water mark (19 by San Diego on March 17, 2000, in a Mideast Region first-round game at Purcell Pavilion) … the +35 rebounding margin topped the program record for an NCAA tournament game set on March 17, 2001 (+26 vs. Alcorn State at Purcell Pavilion) … since 2000-01, the Fighting Irish are 35-3 (.921) against opponents they are playing for the first time ever, including a 9-0 record at neutral sites (5-0 in the NCAA tournament) … freshman guard Jewell Loyd scored a career-high 27 points, topping her previous best of 24 points against then-No. 3 Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion … Loyd’s 27 points were the most by a Notre Dame player in an NCAA tournament game since March 20, 2012, when Natalie Novosel scored 28 points in a Raleigh Region second-round win over California … Loyd’s 27 points were the most by a Notre Dame freshman in an NCAA tournament game since March 23, 2010, when Skylar Diggins scored 31 points in a Kansas City Region second-round win over Vermont at Purcell Pavilion … Loyd’s 27 points were the most by a Fighting Irish rookie in her NCAA postseason debut since March 19, 2006, when Lindsay Schrader netted 29 points in an Albuquerque Region first-round loss to Boston College in West Lafayette, Ind. … junior guard Kayla McBride registered her first double-double of the season and third of her career; McBride’s last double-double came on Jan. 31, 2012, when she had 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win at Rutgers … McBride is the fifth different Fighting Irish player to record a double-double this year … junior forward Natalie Achonwa scored the 1,000th point of her career on a layup with 18:03 left in the second half; Achonwa, who now has exactly 1,000 career points, is the 32nd player in Notre Dame women’s basketball history to reach that milestone, and is one of three current Fighting Irish player to hit the mark along with Diggins (2,280 points) and McBride (1,133 points) … UT Martin’s Heather Butler scored 37 points, the second-most ever scored against Notre Dame in a single game (most by an opponent in an NCAA tournament game), and most since March 24, 1995, when Angela Simpson of Northwestern State (La.) also had 37 points in the semifinals of the National Women’s Invitation Tournament (NWIT) in Amarillo, Texas — the school record for points by an opponent in one game is 38 by Latasha Byears of DePaul on Jan. 16, 1995, while the previous high for points by an opposing individual in the NCAA tournament was 36 by Connecticut’s Maya Moore on April 3, 2011, in the national semifinals at Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis … Notre Dame extended its current winning streak to a school-record 27 games, third-longest of any sport in school history (next up is 1965-67 men’s tennis, which won 29 in a row) … the Fighting Irish collected their 32nd win of the season, the third-most in a single season in school history behind only the 2000-01 club (34-2) and last year’s squad (35-4).