UTM's Butler Dazzles Iowa City In Loss To No. 1 Notre Dame
By Michael Bonner, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Fans migrated to baseline to get a closer view of Skylar Diggins. Faithful followers wearing Kelly green, black and gold and Hurricane Orange, took out their cell phones and aimed them at the Notre Dame All-American guard who boasts more than 312,000 Twitter followers.
But when they exited Carver-Hawkeye Arena Sunday night, the image ingrained in their memory is that of Diggins' counterpart – all 5-foot-5 of her.
Heather Butler, a Tennessee Martin junior with just over 1,100 Twitter followers, dazzled the crowd pouring in 37 points. Her offensive efforts kept the 16th-seeded Skyhawks close for a half until No. 1 Notre Dame ran away in the second for a 97-64 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"I think we list her at 5-5, 5-6, she's not. She's about 5-4 or 5-3," UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan said. "What that young lady does is absolutely amazing."
Butler earned that type of praise from her coach with 23 points in the first half. During one stretch, which spanned the final 12:22 of the first half into 6:53 into the second half, she poured in 20 straight for her Skyhawks.
She did it with drives, floaters in the lane and even banked in a couple of 3-balls. After her first banked 3 fell, Butler turned to her bench, shrugged her shoulder and smiled a-la Michael Jordan.
"I just shot with confidence," Butler said. "I mean, like I said, if the backboard helps you out, it is kind of a good shooting night."
Butler is UT Martin's all-time leading scorer with 2,074 entering Sunday's game. She is the seventh leading scorer in the country averaging 22.0 points per game. She had one more than that by half time.
Overall, the junior scored 37 on 13 of 30 shooting including 6 of 11 from deep. She tied the Carver-Hawkeye Arena record for field goals attempted with 30. Her 37 points are the most against the Irish in an NCAA Tournament game.
"I thought Butler had probably the best individual game anybody's had against us all year long," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "She was phenomenal."
Butler pulled UT Martin within seven with 4:03 remaining in the first. That's when Notre Dame switched to a triangle-and-two and held the Skyhawks scoreless the rest of the half.
"They went to a triangle-and-two and we couldn't get back," McMillan said. "It just kind of snowballed from there."
Notre Dame closed the half on an 11-0 run and opened the second on an 11-2 run. The runs stretched the Irish's lead to 27 and put to rest any idea of a 16-1 upset.
The Irish held Butler to 5 of 13 shooting in the second half.
"We had a lot of trouble with her as everyone saw," Notre Dame junior Kayla McBride said. "So give her a lot of credit, she plays hard and she's just a great player."
Butler also guarded Diggins for the majority of the game. The Notre Dame star finished with 10 points on 3 of 8 shooting to go with six assists.
Butler hoisted her team, offensively and defensively, upon her 5-foot-5 frame for 39 minutes Sunday.
When she walked to her bench after being taken out, a minute remained. In the 15 seconds it took for her to find a seat on the sideline, Butler received the loudest ovation of the afternoon.
"Coming in here, everybody is like, who is UT Martin," Butler said. "Nobody knows who we are. And going against the No. 1 seed team, you want to come out here and prove that we can play with Notre Dame."