March 26, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – It’s hard not to view Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament draw as the worst among the top seeds.
Instead of playing at home like Baylor, Stanford and Connecticut, Notre Dame was shipped off to Iowa City. On Tuesday night, it’ll face ninth-seeded Iowa in the second round in front of a hostile crowd of as many as 10,000 people.
This would be a much bigger problem if the Fighting Irish weren’t so good on the road.
Notre Dame (32-1) will put its perfect road record on the line against the Hawkeyes (21-12). The Fighting Irish have won at Connecticut, Tennessee and everywhere else in this remarkable season, and they’re confident they can do the same at Iowa.
“I think we’ve been road tested, and we’re battle tested,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We have gone to a lot of tough places on the road. So we know what that’s going to be like.”
What’s made the Fighting Irish perhaps the best team in the country outside of Baylor is their depth. Notre Dame’s ability to overwhelm an opponent was on display in an impressive blowout of Tennessee Martin on Sunday.
The undersized Skyhawks decided to let tiny guard Heather Butler shoot at will, and the 5-foot-5 Butler exploded for 37 points against the BIG EAST champions.
It hardly made a dent against the Fighting Irish.
“Offensively, we were on. We shot the ball extremely well. Eight turnovers in the game, and you know, I thought it was a very good game considering we had not played since, I think 11 days since our last game,” McGraw said. “I thought we would be a little rusty but we really came out and looked sharp.”
Few expect the inconsistent Hawkeyes to beat Notre Dame, despite their home-court advantage.
But Iowa has shown it could make things tough on the Fighting Irish.
The Hawkeyes have been an enigma all season – but they’re tough to beat when they’re on.
Iowa went just 8-8 in the Big Ten season, including five straight losses from late January until mid-February. But the Hawkeyes are also 7-3 against opponents who were ranked when they played them, including wins over West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas and Purdue.
Iowa showed glimpses of both sluggish and stellar play in toppling Miami in its opener.
The Hawkeyes got behind by as much as 34-27 and looked lethargic despite the support of nearly 7,000 Iowa fans – third-best among the 16 opening-round sites.
But a few positive plays swung momentum back in Iowa’s corner, and the Hawkeyes won 69-53.
“To be honest, I just think we have the ability to turn it on when we are playing good teams,” Iowa senior center Morgan Johnson said. “We normally play to the level of competition. If that happens, that’s going to be awesome for us.”
Iowa isn’t as deep as Notre Dame, but the Hawkeyes have multiple players that can give defenses fits.
Johnson and guard Jaime Printy, also a senior, can be a very effective inside-outside combination. Sophomore Samantha Logic is averaging 6.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists, and she had 23 points in the win over the Hurricanes.
“Iowa has some post shooters and a big presence overall. They are a smart team and run a motion offense. It’s just about playing team defense,” Loyd said.
The Hawkeyes will seek to build off the energy provided by their crowd and seize control early. But that won’t last forever, and Iowa knows it will have to make a number of huge plays to pull off what would be a massive upset.
“We just have to play in control, whatever we do,” Logic said. “We’re going to look to push when we can, but you can’t force too much against them. You can’t give them any extra opportunities.”