SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Sixteenth-seeded Montana’s defense was no match for top-seeded Notre Dame’s offense.
Jewell Loyd hit 9 of 14 shots and finished with 18 points and the Fighting Irish picked apart the Lady Griz, making 62.3 percent of their shots against a team that had entered the game fourth in the nation in field-goal defense, holding opponents to 33.8 percent shooting. But Montana hadn’t faced a shooting team like the Irish, who entered the game making nearly 50 percent of its shots, second in the nation.
”I just think we executed really well. Everyone fed off each other’s energy really well and we just took what the defense gave us,” Loyd said.
Forward Kellie Rubel said the Lady Griz didn’t play their best defense.
”I think they made some good shots but I don’t think we were playing defense. We had some lapses on defense we shouldn’t have had. So I think it made their scoring come easier than we should have allowed,” she said.
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said she expects the Irish to shoot about 50 percent a game.
”Today we got much better shots. I thought our shot selection was really good,” she said.
Brianna Turner added 12 points and Michaela Mabrey, Taya Reimer and Lindsay Allen added nine points each as the Irish (32-2) won their 18th straight game while Montana (24-9) lost for the 11th straight time in the opening round of the tournament.
It was largest margin of defeat by Montana this season and its biggest loss in the NCAA Tournament, breaking the mark of 31 points to top-seeded Southern California in 1986.
Montana coach Robin Selvig said he knew the Irish would be difficult because they are so balanced.
”These guys just do everything well. They do nothing too out of the ordinary except they’re a great shooting team,” he said.
The Irish outscored Montana 42-24 in the paint and 8-0 on fast-break points. Kathryn Westbeld added eight points and 10 rebounds as the Irish outrebounded Montana 38-32. Kayleigh Valley led Montana wiht nine points and six rebounds.
Montana, the Big Sky champion, shot 35.5 percent overall and was just 2-of-21 from 3-point range as they were held to a season-low for points. The previous low was 50 points against Pacific.
”Our chance was to come in and do the opposite of what we’ve done and get sloppy hot. About three weeks ago I had a great 3-point shooting team. We can’t seem to make one now,” Selvig said.
The Irish scored on seven of their first eight possessions to quickly gain control, using a 14-0 run to open a 21-6 lead and Montana was never able to muster much of a challenge.
McGraw who usually finds something to critique about her team no matter how well her team plays had nothing but praise on Friday night.
”At this part of the year it’s all about moving forward. We won’t even watch the game. We’re going to focus on DePaul immediately after this. I think this time of the year it’s about building confidence and celebrating the victories”
Turner and Westbeld said they didn’t feel any jitters playing in their first NCAA Tournament game, although they said it had a different aura.
”It definitely feels different knowing the outcome if you lose you go home, if you win you keep playing,” Turner said.
Loyd’s 18 points give her 694 for the season, putting her third on Notre Dame’s all-time list. She needs three points to pass Beth Morgan Cunningham, now an Irish assistant, for second place. The school-record is 776 points set by Katryna Gaither during the 1996-97 season.
Montana: The previous best shooting performances against the Lady Griz were 46.2 percent by Wake Forest and 44.3 percent by Princeton. McCalie Feller was 0 of 6 on 3-pointers, giving her a school-record 210 attempts for the season. … Montana is 6-15 in NCAA tournament opening games.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame doesn’t have any senior starters, but this year’s senior class has set the school record for victories with a record of 139-9. Last year’s senior class was 138-15. … The Fighting Irish are 24-2 in the NCAA Tournament when holding opponents to fewer than 60 points. … The Irish have held 13 straight opponents to 63 points or fewer.