Feb. 17, 2015
When the fourth-ranked University of Notre Dame women's basketball team needed offensive firepower against 10th-rated Duke Monday night at Purcell Pavilion, it got an All-America boost from junior guard Jewell Loyd.
When the Fighting Irish needed lockdown defense on Duke's Rebecca Greenwell, it got All-America defense from Loyd.
When the Irish needed someone to respond to some tough play in the second half, it got All-America toughness from Loyd.
Loyd scored 21 points as the Fighting Irish of coach Muffet McGraw knocked off Duke to maintain the upper hand in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Notre Dame (24-2 overall, 11-1 in the ACC) travels to play Thursday at Georgia Tech. The Irish return home Monday for a key ACC showdown against ninth-ranked Louisville.
Loyd, a 5-foot-10 junior who is a national player-of-the-year candidate, is at her best when the competition is the best. She averages 20.7 points a game, but in eight games against ranked opponents she averages 26.9 points a game. Battling the focus of defensive efforts by highly ranked teams, Loyd scored 41 points against DePaul, 34 against Tennessee and 31 against Connecticut.
Duke led 14-5 when Loyd stepped behind the arc and swished a three-pointer at the 13:29 mark. On Notre Dame's next possession, Loyd nailed another three. That ignited the Irish, who went on a 15-2 run on the way to a 34-24 halftime lead.
"I understood that we needed something," Loyd said. "We needed a spark. I came into this game ready to shoot. I was like, if they aren't going to guard me on the three, I'm going to shoot it. It went in and that builds confidence, and everyone builds off that."
McGraw said Loyd jump-started the Irish. In addition to her 21 points, Loyd had six rebounds and five assists.
"I think she always has that fire," McGraw said of the way Loyd stepped up for the Irish. "She's always ready to play. She plays with great passion and intensity.
"I thought she really kind of got us going early. We were struggling, down 10-2. She got to the free-throw line. She hit a three. Then the rest of the team got confident, and we took off from there. That's what you expect from your leader. She really had a major impact in that stretch where we got the lead to almost 20. She hit some huge shots for us."
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie thought Loyd was a difference-maker at that key point early.
"I think she is a super guard," McCallie said of Loyd. "She has grown her game and she also gets more opportunities this year, especially with the graduation of Kayla McBride.
"She (Loyd) made some big shots today, and without those big shots the game could have gone the other way. You have to give her credit for that. Most of the time you want to tell your team, `Well, she is a senior, that is just senior leadership,' but not in this case with her junior leadership. She is terrific and she was the difference in the game."
Loyd's defense was also a difference-maker. She limited Duke's Rebecca Greenwell, who entered the game averaging 14.2 points a game, to four points. Greenwell, who owns a Duke freshman record with 53 three-pointers this season, was none for two from three-point range against the Irish. Duke was shut out behind the arc, going none for 12 on Monday.
"I was really, really happy with the job Jewell Loyd did on Rebecca Greenwell," McGraw said. "She didn't get much of a good look all night long, she kept her under her average. I thought her defensive intensity and focus was phenomenal.
"She did not let her touch the ball," McGraw said of Loyd limiting Greenwell to two-of-five field-goal shooting. Greenwell had scored a combined 41 points in her previous two games. "I thought she face-guarded her. She was on her, fought through screens, found her in transition. She did a really great job of having a single-minded focus of, 'I'm going to shut her down.'"
Loyd said her defensive intensity is fueled by pride.
"I just don't want people to score on me," Loyd said. "I don't like getting scored on. I'm trying to be smarter with it. The screen is coming, I need to jump a little bit ... I'm playing mind games with my opponent. Basketball is kind of like playing chess. If everybody else is playing checkers, I want to play chess. That's how I approach it. I want to be a step ahead of everybody else."
When play got physical, Loyd set the tone for Irish toughness.
"I'm just trying to have fun," Loyd said. "I talk when I need to, I'm a cheerleader when I need to be. I just really love the game. My teammates are willing to listen to me, and that makes it a lot easier. We're all learning from each other. We're a team."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent