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ND Women’s Basketball: ND downs Hawkeyes in Iowa

Matthew Robison | Wednesday, March 27, 2013

With the help of a career-high 28 points from junior guard Kayla McBride, No. 1 seed Notre Dame sprinted past No. 9 seed Iowa in Iowa City on Tuesday to win 74-57 and to advance to the Sweet 16.

McBride scored 24 of her 28 points in the first half, which was just two points shy of her previous career high. She quickly passed that mark in the second half.

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

The Irish (33-1) jumped out to an early lead and never really looked back. The Hawkeyes (20-13) never quit, but Notre Dame’s offensive firepower and presence on the offensive glass prevented Iowa from ever getting back to within striking distance. 

Irish Junior forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker dominated the post. Achonwa finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, eight of which she grabbed on the offensive end. Braker grabbed nine boards and scored five points, as well.

One of the biggest challenges for any team facing Notre Dame is how tough it is to contain all its weapons. On any given night, teams must slow down senior guard Skylar Diggins. But McBride and freshman guard Jewell Loyd can light up the stat sheet as well. They proved than Tuesday.

“Skylar [was] able to put up big numbers along with Natalie Achonwa,” McBride said. “It just shows the balance this team has and how unselfish it is.”

Other than McBride, Achonwa and Braker, the rest of the scoring came from Diggins with 16 points and Loyd with 15 points. 

Notre Dame’s trademark, stifling defense showed at its usual strength Tuesday. The Irish forced 21 Hawkeye turnovers. Diggins, Notre Dame’s all-time leader in steals, had three. Iowa shot just 40-percent from the field and did not make a e-pointer on 11 attempts.

“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 [at] the 3-point line is pretty unusual.”

Iowa’s 6-foot-4 sophomore center Bethany Doolittle shined as the lone bright light for Iowa with 16 points on 8-for-14 shooting. But she managed only five rebounds after Achonwa and Braker kept her off the boards.

Notre Dame led 46-34 at the half. As a high seed in the tournament over the last few years, Notre Dame does not frequently face tough road crowds like the group assembled in Iowa City. But, Notre Dame has played in tough arenas like Tennessee and Connecticut in the past. 

“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.”

The Irish will face No. 12 seed Kansas in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday. Kansas knocked off No. 4 seed South Carolina on Monday.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu