IOWA CITY, Iowa — Skylar Diggins hit the layup, drew the foul and pumped her fist as though she was playing in South Bend rather than Iowa City.
The Fighting Irish have made the road as comfortable as home — and that’s a great sign for a team with serious designs on the national championship.
Kayla McBride scored a career-high 28 points and top-seeded Notre Dame advanced to the regional semifinals of the women’s NCAA tournament with a 74-57 win over Iowa on Tuesday night.
Skylar Diggins had 16 as the Fighting Irish (33-1) extended their school-record winning streak to 28 games and finished 13-0 on the road.
Notre Dame will next face 12th-seeded Kansas in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday.
McBride shot 8 for 13 against Iowa’s zone in the first half as the Irish built a 12-point advantage. The lead reached 59-39 on Diggins’ layup with 15:30 left as Notre Dame reached the round of 16 for the 11th time in 17 seasons.
“Kayla McBride was phenomenal in the first half against their zone. She got any shot she wanted and was making just about every shot she took,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Bethany Doolittle scored 16 points for Iowa (21-13), which went 0 for 11 from three-point range and had 21 turnovers.
The favored Irish never let the host Hawkeyes take the lead. Though Iowa managed to threaten Notre Dame’s edge at various points in the first half, the Irish pulled away early in the second half and maintained a comfortable lead throughout.
“We struggled to score,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In the second half we just couldn’t buy a bucket, and for us to go 0 for the three-point line is pretty unusual.”
Jewell Loyd had 14 points and Natalie Achonwa added 11 with 14 rebounds for Notre Dame.
“If you look at what Jewell did ... Skylar able to put up big numbers along with Natalie Achonwa. It just shows the balance this team has and how unselfish it is,” McBride said.
Iowa fared quite well against ranked opponents this season despite an 8-8 mark in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes had beaten seven of the 10 opponents who were ranked when they faced them.
But there’s a big difference between mere ranked teams and Notre Dame, one of a handful of serious national title contenders.
The Hawkeyes immediately discovered the difference.
The Irish hit five of their first seven shots and jumped ahead 15-6. By then, Iowa’s Samantha Logic — who led the Hawkeyes with 23 points in their opening-round rout of Miami — had picked up two fouls.
Logic followed up a strong first-round game with nine points and 11 turnovers.
“I told them `We lost to a great team out there. A team that’s probably going to be playing in the national championship game,”’ Bluder said. “They have such great balance and really great teamwork. They pass the ball so well, and probably don’t get enough credit for their defense.”
Still, Iowa pulled to 24-18 and ignited the home crowd for the first time. It didn’t last, as Diggins hit a contested mid-range jumper and McBride pulled up for a long 3 and a 31-18 edge.
McBride had two more momentum-busting three's from nearly the same spot to put Notre Dame up 46-34 at halftime.
McBride, fresh off her first double-double of the season, matched her career high of 26 points early in the second half.
The Irish had their first 20-point lead a few minutes later.
It’ll be neutral courts the rest of the way for the Irish, and they believe their mental toughness will be key as the opponents only get tougher from here on out.
“This team has played in so many tough atmospheres,” Diggins said. “We’re used to this experience of playing on the road. Iowa was another tough environment that we had to overcome if we wanted to keep dancing.”