The script was reversed Sunday with the Little People on the court for UT-Martin while the Fighting Irish, minus the leprechaun, had all the big people. Skyhawk mighty mite Heather Butler, generously listed at 5-foot-5, was nearly impossible to defend, but the Irish had too many easy inside baskets and pulled away to a 97-64 victory in an NCAA opening round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“They’re a great team, and we got killed on the glass,” UT-Martin coach Kevin McMillan said. “We might have set an NCAA record for rebound margin.”
The final rebound differential was 35 in favor of the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame (32-1) will play Iowa at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday for the right to advance to the regional semifinals. UT-Martin finished its season 19-15 after winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
UT-Martin twice got within four points of the Irish in the first half, but it could not get stops at the other end. The Irish scored in 24 of their 33 first-half possessions, including the first 10 of the game in building a 49-31 halftime lead.
“We got our transition game going and we got easy layups,” Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride said.
McMillan said Notre Dame’s switch to a trian<FZ,1,7,16>gle-and-two to try to control Butler and her back-court mini-mate Jasmine Newsome was a key to the Irish finishing the half in such a dominant fashion.
“They went to a triangle and two because they couldn’t guard these guys,” he said. “I thought that was a tremendous tribute to what these two were able to do.”
Offensively the Irish worked a high-low game to perfection to a multitude of beneficiaries. Notre Dame outrebounded UT-Martin 26-8 in the first half and scored 26 points in the paint to just eight for the Skyhawks. Overall, the Irish had 34 more points in the paint than did the Skyhawks. It didn’t help that Rickiesha Bryant, the team’s post, hurt an ankle and played just 18 minutes.
“But what Notre Dame is, people don’t give them enough credit for, is long,” McMillan said. “Their wingspan is a lot longer than their height. They are not a big team, but their arms are so long that they get to stuff that they are not supposed to get to, and they are so athletic that it’s hard to keep people in front of you.”
Notre Dame’s 5-10 freshman guard Jewell Loyd was effective inside both scoring and rebounding. She scored 17 of her career-best 27 points in the first half. She scored in transition and off offensive rebounds and more than compensated for a quiet game from All-American Skylar Diggins.
“We are a very unselfish team and we move the ball really well and we find the open person, so I moved and cut and we had great passers and they found me right under the basket and they went in,” Loyd said.
McBride, a 5-11 guard, took over in the second half and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The Irish made 17-of-33 shots in the first half even though they were 1-of-7 from 3-point range, a good indication that the points were coming from point-blank range. They finished shooting 56.7 percent (38 of 67).
Forward Natalie Achonwa, the Irish 6-3 post presence, also was effective against the shorter Skyhawks. All she had to do was turn and shoot in the lane, and no one was there to impede her shot. The Skyhawks were not able to pressure the ball on the outside to prevent easy entry passes, and many times the Irish just beat them down the floor. Achonwa finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Butler finished with 37 points.
“I thought Butler had probably the best individual game anybody’s had against us all year long,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She was phenomenal. We went to the triangle and two late in the half to try to contain her for a little bit. I think we slowed her down for four minutes, but she played extremely well.”
“She can score in a lot of ways,” McBride said. “She’s very quick off the ball screen, and she knows when to pull up and when to shoot the three and when to go all the way to the basket. She’s a great player.”
Her quickness caused Notre Dame’s defenders problems as she drove to the basket, but she was also the victim of several blocked shots early in the game and adjusted well after that.
But the real issue was one McMillan warned about in Saturday’s news conference. He joked that “they have an inside game and we don’t.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball