Iowa’s stones no match for Goliath
IOWA CITY – It could have been worse.
The other two No. 1 seeds playing Tuesday night beat their opponents by better than 30 points to reach the Sweet 16.
The Iowa women were outmatched, outquicked and less talented but kept the final outcome under 20 with heart, guts and a strong crowd.
However, top-seeded and No. 2-ranked Notre Dame got a career-high 28 points from Kayla McBride, a double-double from Natalie Achonwa and an impressive performance from point guard Skylar Diggins during a 74-57 win in second-round action of the women’s NCAA tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I was pleased with our perimeter defense and I thought our pressure defense bothered them,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We were able to use our defense to get a lead in the first half and it helped us pull away in the second half.”
The Irish, who are prohibitive favorites to reach the championship against Baylor, will next play 12th seeded Kansas in the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks upset South Carolina on Monday night.
“Kayla McBride was phenomenal in the first half,” McGraw said. “She got any shot she wanted and was making just about every shot she took. Sky (Diggins) did a great job of running the team. She did a good job of getting the ball into K-Mac’s (McBride) hands and helped us force the tempo in our favor.”
It was a gutty performance for the Hawkeyes, who trailed by just 10 at the break. Notre Dame sped past Iowa with its quickness and dominating the rebounding inside.
Iowa also missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts in the loss. The last time Iowa did not hit a 3-pointer in a game was against No. 6 Rutgers on Dec. 4, 2005.
“Notre Dame does not get enough credit for their defense,” Bluder said. “They had tremendous ball pressure and their help side defense was very good. They are the real deal and will likely be playing in the championship game. We can’t hang our heads about this loss. We just lost to a great team tonight.”
The Hawkeyes also turned it over 24 times, 11 of which came from sophomore guard Sam Logic. Logic put all the blame on herself after the game.
“I didn’t handle the ball the right way. I let the ball pressure bother me. I wasn’t composed enough,” said Logic, who finished with nine points, nine rebounds and five assists in the loss. “We turned it over when we had the opportunities to chip away at the lead. But I struggled to take care of the ball tonight.”
The Hawkeyes (21-13) cut Notre Dame lead to single digits on a few possessions late in the first half, but every time Iowa made a run, McBride buried the Hawkeyes.
“She got loose in the zone way too much,” Bluder said of McBride. “She certainly needs to be reckoned with out there. She came up with big scores in the first half when her team needed them.”
The big difference in the second half was Notre Dame’s ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. Notre Dame was 18-for-21 from the line in the game, while Iowa hit 9-of-11.
Diggins controlled the tempo from her point guard position and the All-American and Big East Player of the Year finished with 16 points and five assists.
Achonwa finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds and Big East Freshman of the Year Jewell Loyd added 14 in the win.
But nobody was better than McBride, who had a career night on the road on the biggest stage possible in NCAA women’s basketball.
“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates getting me the ball,” said McBride, who scored 24 of her career-high 28 points in the first half. “It also shows that we have great balance on this team. All of our players had big games tonight. Luckily, I was able to hit the shots when I was open.”
McGraw said McBride isn’t known for her 3-pointers, even though she connected on 4-of-5 from downtown in the first 20 minutes.
“When you make that many shots offensively, things look good,” McGraw said. “She is usually a midrange jump shooter. I was impressed by those 3-pointers. It took pressure off the rest of the team when you have one player get off to a hot start like that.”
Sophomore Bethany Doolittle led the Hawkeyes with 16 points, while junior Theairra Taylor added 10 points and seven rebounds. Doolittle, Taylor, Logic and Melissa Dixon will be back next season.
Seniors Jaime Printy, Morgan Johnson and Trisha Nesbitt will not. Printy finished with 10 points in her final game in Iowa City, while Johnson, who has aspirations of becoming a doctor, had seven points and five boards in her final game.
“It’s tough to say goodbye to the three seniors,” said Bluder, who choked up when talking about the senior trio. “That’s probably the hardest thing about tonight. It’s not the losing. It’s that the season ends and we can’t coach them anymore.”
Iowa ended up with 21 turnovers and allowed 21 offensive rebounds to Notre Dame (33-1), which outrebounded the Hawkeyes 45-36 while improving to 33-1 on the season. The Irish’s lone loss came against No. 1 Baylor, which defeated Florida State, 85-47, on Tuesday night.
“We turned it over too much and gave up too much offensive rebounds,” said Bluder. “You have to expect an almost perfect game to beat Notre Dame and we just didn’t have it tonight.”
McBride was 8-of-13 from the floor in the first half. She hit 4-of-5 from downtown and was 4-of-4 from the line. Printy finished her career 443-of-497 from the line, which was just shy of the Big Ten and Iowa record of 89.2 percent held by Wendy Ausdemore. Johnson finished as Iowa’s all-time leading shot blocker with 293 and is fourth all-time in rebounds (886) and ninth in career scoring (1,582). Printy was second in Iowa school history in 3-pointers made with 252, third in career scoring with 1,841 and fifth in career assists with 412. Iowa finished 21-13, marking the seventh time in Bluder’s 13 seasons the Hawkeyes have reached 20 wins. The senior class of Printy, Johnson and Nesbitt compiled 82 wins and averaged 20 wins per season. Achonwa’s double-double was her school-record 17th of the season. Notre Dame finished with no bench points. Des Moines East native Markisha Wright played eight minutes for the Irish and finished 0-for-2 from the floor and grabbed two rebounds.