Hawks have ‘nothing to lose’ against Notre Dame

IOWA CITY – Even with a home-court advantage, the Iowa women’s basketball team will be a heavy underdog against top-seeded and second-ranked Notre Dame when the two teams tip off their second-round women’s NCAA tournament game at 8:30 p.m. tonight inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

But Iowa sophomore guard Samantha Logic, who has two double-doubles in her two career NCAA tournament games, says the Hawkeyes have nothing to lose.

In fact, she thinks the women’s game needs more parity and it could start with an Iowa victory.

“It seems like when a No. 1 seed gets knocked out, it’s by a No. 2, and that’s not much of an upset,” said Logic, who had 23 points and 11 rebounds in Iowa’s first-round win over Miami on Sunday. “We need a little more ‘madness’ in women’s basketball, too, so why not start with us?”

Why not, indeed.

Notre Dame though will have something to say about that. The Irish are 32-1 and have won 17 straight games since losing to top-ranked Baylor back in December. Notre Dame has the Big East Player of the Year in Skylar Diggins, the Big East Freshman of the Year in Jewell Loyd and two more all-Big East first-teamers in Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride.

“There’s nobody in America who thinks the Hawkeyes can win this game except those women in our locker room,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “But, I told them a lot of people will be cheering for them because I think everybody would like to see an upset like that.”

The Hawkeyes have made the NCAA tournament in six straight seasons, one of just 13 programs in the country to claim that feat. Bluder has guided the program to the Big Dance in 10 of her 13 seasons and the Hawkeyes have been there 22 times in all.

But nothing compares to the challenge Iowa (21-12) will face on its home court against the Irish tonight.

Notre Dame averages 81 points per game, shoots 46 percent from the floor and holds a plus-23 scoring margin of victory.

Iowa struggled on the glass against the Hurricanes in the opener Sunday, and it may not get any better against the Irish, who out-rebounded UT-Martin 49-14 in a 97-64 first-round win in the first game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“You see it in the men’s tournament, two seeds have been knocked out and a one seed has gone down, so you have to be ready and take every possession likes it’s the most important one,” Logic said. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”

Logic is right. No one expects the Hawkeyes to win.

But Iowa hopes another large crowd can neutralize the mighty Irish. There were 6,836 fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the first-round games. That was good for third nationally among the 16 sites hosting games in the first two rounds. Only top-ranked Baylor and recent national champion Texas A&M had more fans in their arenas.

“We are extremely thankful that fans came to Iowa City to watch the NCAA tournament,” Bluder said. “We can’t thank our fans enough for not only supporting our team, but for supporting women’s basketball. (Sunday) was a very special night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.”

Logic’s 23 points and 11 rebounds led the way for Iowa in the opener against Miami, but Melissa Dixon scored all 11 of her points in the deciding second half.

Seniors Morgan Johnson and Jaime Printy will have to put in more than their nine points each in the opener if the Hawkeyes want to shock Notre Dame in round two.

If Iowa does win, it would be its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1996. Sunday’s win over the Hurricanes was the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 2010.

“Our defense is going to have to be incredible,” said Printy, who averages 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in her final campaign. “And we’re going to have to score. We’ve got them on our home court, and we’re in a position in which nobody thinks we can beat them.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is confident in her team’s ability to win, but knows the Irish will not have much of a cheering section.

“The crowd is going to be against us and there are going to be a lot of people cheering against us,” said McGraw, who has 622 wins as Notre Dame’s head coach.

Notre Dame’s Achonwa realizes Iowa has the home-court advantage, but it won’t be the first time the Irish have played a tough opponent on the road.

“Iowa has a home-court advantage here. Everyone knows that,” said Achonwa. “But we’ve played a lot of great away games this year and I think it’s just about focusing on what we are going to do and how we are going to play, and just try to take the crowd out of it.”

Diggins, a national player of the year candidate, leads the Irish at 17 points per game, while Achonwa posts 13.8 ppg and a team-best 9.3 rpg. Fellow first-team all-Big East teammate McBride puts in 15.6 points per tilt.

The Hawkeyes believe they can pull the upset though.

“We have the belief that we can do anything,” said Iowa’s Johnson, who leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounding at 14.6 and 7.6, respectively. “That gives us the ability to do amazing things.”

It will have to be amazing. That’s the only way Iowa scores the shocker of the tournament.