THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Not even Brittney Griner scored as many points against Notre Dame as Tennessee-Martin’s Heather Butler put up.
Butler had 37 points against the top-seeded Irish in a first-round NCAA tournament game Sunday, including a couple of banked in 3-pointers, but it wasn’t enough for the 16th-seeded Seahawks in a 97-64 loss to Notre Dame.
The taller, longer, more athletic Irish dominated under the basket and moved one step closer to returning to the national championship game for the third straight year.
Butler certainly made it interesting, though.
“I think we list her at 5-(foot)-5. She’s really about 5-4 or 5-3,” Tennessee-Martin coach Kevin McMillan said. “What that young lady has done is absolutely amazing. I was fortunate to coach her in high school and fortunate she followed me to UT Martin. And I’m fortunate every day I get to be around her.”
Butler, seventh in the nation in scoring this season, shot 13 for 30 from the field, including 6 for 11 on 3s. She banked in a 3 from the left wing in the first half, then hit another off the glass from the top of the key less than 3 minutes later.
“When she banked the first one, I said we’re going to start throwing her the ball,” McMillan said. “Because she’ll be made because she banked it in and she’ll start putting them in and she did.”
Butler, who averages 22 a game, gave a shrug after the first one kissed off the glass.
“Yeah, I was kind of like, hey, what can I say?” Butler said. “I mean, I thought it was completely off. I thought it was going to break off and go out of bounds, but it didn’t. It kind of shocked me, so that was my reaction to it.”
Butler tried taking the ball to the basket early, but soon saw that wasn’t going to work against the taller Irish, who had a 49-14 rebounding advantage and a 56-22 edge in scoring in the paint.
“I’m used to going against bigger guards,” she started to say, only to be interrupted by McMillan. “Everybody is bigger than you,” he said, drawing laughter.
“As I said,” Butler continued, “I’m used to it. But obviously what I was doing wasn’t working. So I had to just tell myself, OK, relax, just take your time. Go in there and if you have a shot, shoot it. And if not, kick it out. I finally relaxed.”
Butler’s backcourt mate, the 5-6 Jasmine Newsome, scored 15 points. She came in averaging 22.9 points, which is fourth nationally.
But with the Skyhawks (19-15) getting little production inside, the Irish (32-1) blew the game open with a 22-2 run spanning halftime.
“We got destroyed on the glass,” Butler said. “That’s what killed us.”
Jewell Loyd scored 27 points for Notre Dame. Kayla McBride added 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Natalie Achonwa scored 16
Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins finished with just 10 points and six assists. But the Fighting Irish didn’t need much from their star in the rout because Loyd, McBride and Anchowa scored practically at will.
Notre Dame was up 10 in less than 5 minutes, hitting six of its first seven shots for a 14-4 lead.
But instead of folding, the Skyhawks put the ball in Butler’s hands. She keyed a surprising 16-6 run, banking in her 3s and hitting a layup off a nifty back cut to make a game of it.
Butler had 23 points in just 16 minutes — or 21 more than her counterpart Diggins to that point — and the Skyhawks got as close as 38-31.
But Diggins had the help that Butler could have used.
Loyd and Achonwa combined for 31 first-half points, and Notre Dame’s closing run made it an 18-point game at halftime.
The Fighting Irish then scored 11 of the next 13 points to jump ahead 60-33.
Griner, the 6-8 Baylor sensation, scored 24 points in the only game Notre Dame has lost — 73-61 to the Bears in South Bend back in December. The most anyone had scored against Notre Dame this season was 33 by South Florida’s Andrea Smith.
“To think that those two guards could go out as a 16 seed and combine for 52 points and one of them get 37,” McMillan said, “you can’t ask for any more.”