Notre Dame women's basketball: Loyd ready to make leap

<b> Curt Rallo</b>
<i>CRallo@SBTinfo.com</i>

When freshman Jewell Loyd left her feet on the basketball court, Notre Dame women’s basketball fans knew they would be getting on their feet in the stands.

Loyd dazzled Irish fans with alley-oop baskets, launching toward the hoop, taking an airborne pass, and connecting for breath-taking scores.

A 5-foot-10 guard, Loyd turned in an outstanding freshman season, averaging 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds. She also connected on 82 percent of her free throws.

Loyd especially shined in the NCAA Tournament. She pushed up her scoring average to 16.8 points in tournament play.

Considering that most freshmen make a significant leap from their first season to their second season, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said Loyd is poised to make a noticeable improvement.

“I can see that Jewell has really worked hard on her ball-handling,” McGraw said. “That was probably her only weakness last year (when she had 75 assists and 73 turnovers).

“Coming off the ball screen, she wasn’t as sure. That’s where she’s really made a big jump.”

Loyd had impressive showings in key games when the Irish needed an added scoring punch. She put up 19 points to help the Irish win at UCLA and scored 24 points to lead the effort against Baylor.

In the NCAA Tournament, Loyd was a steady force, scoring in double digits in all five games. She scored 27 points against Tennessee-Martin, 14 against Iowa, 15 against Kansas, 17 against Duke and 11 against Connecticut.

“I think that Jewell’s going to be a more consistent scorer this year,” McGraw said. “Last year, she had some really good games. This year, I expect that she will be somebody we can really count on to get 12 or 15 points every game.

“I expect more rebounding and more assists, but the ball-handling is the thing I really have noticed.”

Philly-bound

When Notre Dame left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, it meant that the Irish would have a harder time making it back to McGraw’s home turf in Philadelphia.

Villanova is off the schedule, but McGraw was able to book a non-conference game back home. The University of Pennsylvania announced that it would host Notre Dame on Nov. 23. The game will be played at the fabled Palestra.

“I’m going back to Philly!” McGraw exclaimed. “Cheesesteaks are waiting for me.

“The Palestra is a great venue. It’s one of the best venues in college basketball. I played at the Palestra when I played at St. Joe’s; I saw a lot of basketball there. There’s a lot of tradition there. It’s a great place to play. It’s a really special place. I know we’ll get a good crowd there.”

Alumni battle

McGraw hit the road recently to watch Irish alums Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters play against each other in a WNBA game. Diggins and the Tulsa Shock hosted Peters and the Minnesota Lynx on July 13.

Minnesota won, 86-75. Peters scored four points and had three rebounds, and Diggins did not score and had four assists.

“Devereaux is doing great,” McGraw said. “She was the first sub off the bench. She played well. She rebounded really well. She’s scoring a lot more from the outside. You can tell she’s really worked on her perimeter game. I really think she’s really playing confidently.

“Skylar was coming off her best game of the season — 19 points. Unfortunately, she turned her ankle and had five fouls. She just had one of those games that you like to get back, but she’s doing well overall. She’s running the team, her leadership is coming through.

She’s not looking to score as much. She’s getting other shots. She’s still learning.”

Summer work

This is the first season that the NCAA is allowing women’s basketball teams to have summer work, and McGraw is taking advantage of the opportunity.

“We’re allowed two hours a week with the team,” she said. “Two hours is plenty of time for us. We’re only doing individual work the first three weeks. We did position work, shooting, fundamentals.

“This has been our first week of practice, but it’s summer. We don’t want them to get into a grind of practice.”

McGraw said that the rule is especially beneficial for freshmen.

“I’m really glad we have this rule for the freshmen,” McGraw said. “We reduce their anxiety level by getting them to understand, teaching them the offense, showing them some things on defense. They’re learning so much. Now, when they come in in the fall, we’re way ahead of where we would have been. Plus, the women’s game needs fundamentals. We need to work on fundamentals.”

McGraw said that the freshmen have been responding well.

“I am so excited for their ability to grasp the concepts,” McGraw said. “They understand what we’re doing. They’re smart. They’re picking things up quickly.”

A key point of emphasis for the freshmen is mastering Notre Dame’s Princeton-style offense. The complex scheme requires a quick read of the defense, and then a quick reaction.

“I think that’s the part that’s going to be a struggle for the freshmen,” McGraw said. “I think the pace of the game and reading the defense are challenges. Right now, they’re going to be robots, just going to this spot and that spot, and determining in advance what they’re going to run. Once they get into it, they’ll be a lot more fluid and be more creative. Right now, they just want to get it right.”

After an impressive freshman season, Jewell Loyd is ready for big things her sophomore year with the Notre Dame women's basketball team.