Mar 25, 2013, 1:54 PM EDT
The number one-seeded Notre Dame women faced off for the first time against the sixteen-seeded University of Tennessee-Martin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Even though the two teams had never met on the court before, UT-Martin feared that they were mismatched both in height and style of play before the game even began.
Many of the Skyhawks were very small players, especially their star player, 5’2” Heather Butler, but despite the height difference and having to work against the very mobile Notre Dame defense, Butler and her team put up a good fight against the Irish. In the end, however, the Irish came out ready to play from the first minute and never yielded. The Notre Dame women took the lead early and finished with a dominate 97-64 win over UT-Martin.
The Irish players put on a great show against the Skyhawks as many of the women truly gave it everything they had during the entire game. Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa, and Jewell Loyd dominated on the court from the very first play of the game. Achonwa crashed the boards all night long, which allowed her team to maintain control of the game while she was able to add 16 points of her own to the Irish win.
In addition, McBride and Loyd combined for 49 of the Irish’s total 97 points. Jewell had 27 of those points, a career high for her, which earned her the title of the Capital One Player of the Game. Her shooting was definitely on point as she was able to dazzle her opponents multiple times with her signature midair shot underneath the basket. The ESPN announcers described Jewell as “playing with no fear,” and having “risen to the occasion with scoring.” The whole team rose to the occasion and gave the Irish an opportunity to advance one step closer to an NCAA championship.
Not only did the Irish outplay the Skyhawks outright, but they had a distinct height advantage that gave a lot of opportunities to Achonwa and Loyd in the middle. The Notre Dame women were able to send lob passes over the defense and find the tall Achonwa and the airborne Loyd in the paint for easy buckets. On the opposite side of the court, UT-Martin’s Heather Butler, the smallest player on their team, was not intimidated by her tall opponents, however, scoring 37 points during the game. This great effort was still not enough to stop the consistent Irish offense though.
This dominant Irish offense was led by senior Skylar Diggins. Even though her scoring was relatively quiet during this game, she played an even more important role as she maintained control of the game for her team and stepped up to make plays and take shots when needed. Skylar has always been a leader and an integral part of this team, and she will be greatly missed by her teammates and fans next year. ESPN took a moment during halftime to talk to Skylar about her leaving the team and especially her leaving Coach Muffet McGraw. She became very emotional when asked about her relationship with Coach McGraw, and she explained how her coach was more than just a coach but also a true mentor. “Coach McGraw helped me to become the woman I am today,” said Skylar. The duo make a great pair because they think alike and have the same competitive drive. This type of bond and trust formed between players and coaches is what makes a great team, and the Notre Dame women’s basketball team truly is great.
Be sure to watch this amazing team of women as they take their next step on the road to the Final Four on Tuesday, March 26 at 9:30 PM ET against the University of Iowa. Great first game, ladies. We will all be watching and cheering you on to victory. Go Irish! Beat Hawkeyes!
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