Dec. 7, 2014
Jewell Loyd gathered the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team at center court of Purcell Pavilion after the Fighting Irish suffered a 76-58 loss Saturday to two-time defending national champion Connecticut.
"I told them we're going to see Connecticut again," said Loyd, who tied her career high with 31 points. "I told my teammates not to hang their heads, and I told them what we have to do. I told them that we have to play hard, and it all starts in practice. We have to compete in practice before we come out and compete in games."
Notre Dame saw its 34-game home winning streak end, a mark that was the nation's best active home-court winning streak. The last time Notre Dame lost at home was 73-61 to Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012. The Irish learned important lessons from that loss and went on a tear, beating Connecticut three times on the way to reaching the NCAA Final Four that year.
"I think in the long run this will be a good thing for us," Irish Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw said after the defeat. "We can learn a lot from it."
Loyd said her post-game team meeting at center court was all about making sure a defeat didn't turn into a setback. The 5-foot-10 All-America guard exhorted the Irish to make sure they move forward from the Connecticut defeat, which happened with star freshman post Brianna Turner (13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds a game) sidelined due to an injured shoulder.
Letting Connecticut get easy points bothered Loyd the most. She said she's determined to make sure the Irish have plenty of fight in them the next time Notre Dame steps on the court, which will be Wednesday at another longtime rival, No. 25/24 DePaul.
"That's something we had in the last couple of years, fight," Loyd said. "We fought in practice, but it was a good fight, and we went back to the locker room and said, `Good job.'
"That fight is something we need right now," Loyd said. "We need to compete, we need to fight, we need to get on the ground, and that's something that we're missing. Hopefully, everybody sees that and understands we have to work."
McGraw said developing toughness is key for the Irish.
"It's more of an individual thing: some people are tough, some are not," McGraw stated about putting more fight into her club. "That's difficult, to make somebody tough when they are just not.
"We can play different people and work at practice and make it a little more competitive and do drills that encourage competitiveness and toughness, but after that it's got to come from within, and I'm hoping that is what everyone in the locker room is thinking about right now."
One area where the Irish will need toughness to improve if they play Connecticut again is the inside game. Connecticut outrebounded the Irish 52-34 and outscored the Irish 44-28 in the paint.
"Experiences like this can only make us realize the importance of how you have to be tough on every possession," said Carol Owens, the associate head coach who is responsible for the Irish inside game.
"You never want to lose," Owens said. "You never want to lose, but there are lessons to be learned in a loss. It's my job to teach that lesson. Our group hasn't lost much. They have to learn how to fight. They should see, `This is how hard I have to fight for it.' It's not going to be easy. Hopefully we will get better from this and learn from it."
Notre Dame showed it can compete with the Huskies. The Irish bolted to a 10-point lead, 28-18 with 10:13 left in the first half. Connecticut threw the ball away 24 times.
"To start the game the way we did, not having Brianna Turner, who's been a leader for us, shows us we're capable of this," Owens said. "We just have to have the maturity, when people make a run at us, to stay calm and poised and get tougher and get through that adversity."
Loyd is looking forward to seeing how the Irish respond. She refuses to believe there could be a crisis of confidence stemming from the loss to Connecticut. She believes the Irish will use the defeat as a springboard to being the great team she is confident the Irish can become.
"Right now, we're still in a little shock, because this was our first test," Loyd said. "But it's good to learn about ourselves early in the year. We'll go look at film and start fixing what we need to fix. I know we can be the team we're capable of being."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent