For the second consecutive NCAA Tournament game, a career-high scoring performance by a Notre Dame player helped propel the No. 1 seed Irish to their 11th Sweet 16 in the last 17 years.
Junior Kayla McBride scored 24 of her career high 28 points in the first half during Notre Dame's 74-57 victory at Iowa.
Junior guard Kayla McBride tallied a career-high 28 points — 24 of them in the first half — in Notre Dame’s 74-57 victory at No. 9 seed Iowa (21-13) on Tuesday night. Two days earlier, freshman guard Jewell Loyd scored a career-high 27 points in a 97-64 romp versus Tennessee-Martin.
Next up for Notre Dame in the Norfolk (Va.) Region is No. 12 seed Kansas (20-13) on Easter Sunday. The Jayhawks have pulled off back-to-back upsets by defeating No. 5 seed Colorado on the Buffaloes’ home court before toppling No. 4 seed South Carolina.
Notre Dame (33-1) extended its school-record winning streak to 28 games on the strength of bursting out to a 19-8 lead with its full-court pressure. McBride has been on a shooting tear the past three weeks and followed her 10-of-13 effort from the field on Sunday by converting six of her first nine tries against the Hawkeyes and their zone defense.
Most notable is that after making only 16 threes at a 25-percent clip throughout this season, McBride in the first half drilled 4 of 5 beyond the arc versus Iowa.
“We knew they were going to be in the zone and I just had opportunities,” McBride told ESPN afterwards. “My teammates were finding me open.”
Senior All-American point guard Skylar Diggins added 16 points, five assists and three steals, while Loyd contributed 14 points. Junior center Natalie Achonwa, who scored her 1,000th career point against Tennessee-Martin, recorded a Notre Dame single-season school-record 17th double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds against Iowa.
“We knew they were going to have a lot to play for being in front of their home crowd,” Diggins told ESPN of the intensity with which Notre Dame opened. “… We’ve had experience with these atmospheres so we just wanted to come out and kind of take the crowd out of it early and have a good start.”
Notre Dame was in command from start to finish and dictated the tempo with its pressure defense, including a full-court press. Iowa finished third in the Big Ten this year in three-point field goals made with nearly six per game, but it was 0 of 11 against the Irish from that distance. In the second half, the Hawkeyes went for a stretch of eight minutes, from 10:28 to 2:29, without converting a field goal.
With McBride in a shooting rhythm, the Irish offense flowed more smoothly in the first half while building a 46-34 lead at the intermission. McBride was 8 of 13 from the field, while the rest of the team was only 7 of 20. Notre Dame then opened the second half with an 11-4 run to extend its cushion to 57-38.
The game became more ragged and chippy thereafter, including a technical foul called on Achonwa and 2-of-8 shooting by McBride. The Irish made only 10 of their 34 field goal attempts in the second half, or just below 30 percent.
At this time of the year, though, it’s a three-word operation: survive and advance.