TOLEDO – The Notre Dame women’s basketball team had a point to prove.
A little concerned over their interior defense, the Irish opened their chase for a second national title by shutting down Robert Morris’ Artemis Spanou – one of the country’s best post players.
Spanou compiled more turnovers (eight) than points (seven) as No. 1 seed Notre Dame crushed the No. 16 seed Colonials 93-42 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Savage Arena.
The Irish advance to face No. 9 seed Arizona State on Monday.
Notre Dame rotated defenders on Spanou, a two-time Northeast Conference player of the year, and sent occasional double teams that helped deny her the ball.
The strategies visibly frustrated Spanou and left Notre Dame (33-0) feeling better about one of its few weak points.
Our plan of attack was to trap her and get her out of her comfort zone, Irish guard Kayla McBride said.
We were able to get her in foul trouble. It was definitely good, she said.
Our post defense is a work in progress.
On display were all of the strengths that make No. 2 Notre Dame a Final Four favorite: depth, outside shooting, rebounding and star power.
Yet the Irish, an unbeaten team with a perfectionist streak, used their opener to close the gap on an area they targeted for improvement.
The only way massive underdog Robert Morris (21-12) could hang around was to receive an even-better-than-usual performance from Spanou, who entered averaging 19.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game.
Instead, the Colonials’ center had only two field goal attempts and two points at halftime, when Notre Dame led 50-15.
Artemis is irreplaceable, Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said. We didn’t really expect Notre Dame to double- and triple-team her. You saw that on the first possession.
The Irish ran away quickly, building leads of 18-4 and 22-6.
By the time Michaela Mabrey made two 3-pointers in a span of three possessions, making it 28-6, Spanou was clearly fatigued.
Buscaglia used a timeout with 8:59 remaining in the half.
It was really fun, Mabrey said. We were very low-key and loose today.
The game was predictably lopsided, and none of the Irish played more than 23 minutes.
Mabrey led Notre Dame with 16 points, while Jewell Loyd and Natalie Achonwa contributed 15 apiece. Madison Cable scored 13- and Ariel Braker had 10.
Everybody got their jitters out early, said McBride, who scored nine. Everybody got their nose in there. I love doing what I can. It’s good to see our younger players build confidence in the tournament.
Even better, Notre Dame learned it could stop the best players down low.
Spanou said she appreciated the respect shown by all the attention.
Notre Dame’s defense smothered everybody else, too, forcing 17 turnovers and limiting the Colonials to 27 percent shooting.
Spanou’s great, Achonwa said. Markisha Wright guarded her well. Throughout the year we had some difficulty guarding the post, so we were focused on it.