Notre Dame women’s basketball: Irish will lean on steady Loyd

Al Lesar

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Success won’t spoil Jewell Loyd.

Humility is a critical part her DNA. So is the tenacity of a defensive stopper, and the ice water that flows in the veins of a stone-cold shooter.

National Freshman of the Year. Pivotal component of a Final Four team. Production of 12.2 points a game.

All that's history. New year. New challenge. More confidence.

Notre Dame's 5-foot-10 guard made an early impact on the women's college basketball national scene. Sophomore jinx? At a loss for an encore?

Hardly. Loyd will take the lessons learned a year ago, package them with confidence and her immense talent, and become an even better version of herself as the season unfolds.

"She's very humble," said Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, Loyd's position coach. "She has had a great upbringing. She was surrounded by great people (last year). (Skylar Diggins, Kaila McBride and Natalie Achonwa) set a great example for her. They weren't going to let anything go to her head.

"She received the accolades, but our goal is to always win a national championship. It's a team, not about an individual award. We would never let it get to her head. I don't think she would either."

Loyd didn't play what would be considered a glamour role during last year's run to New Orleans. While Skylar Diggins and Kaila McBride were absorbing the bulk of the attention, it was Loyd who was given the opportunity to make an impact.

"She was surrounded by such great players, they took some of the best defenders, so she was getting wide-open shots," Ivey said.

It's one thing to get an open shot. It's quite another thing to drain it. Especially for a freshman, that's a pretty big deal.

"When you get on the court, age doesn't matter," Loyd said. "If you can ball, you can ball. That's something I've always been taught. If you stay confident in your game and you have faith, you'll be fine."

"(Loyd has) been put in such tough situations," Ivey said. "One of her best games last year was against Baylor (24 points, 7 rebounds): No. 1 team in the country at that time. Playing against (eventual national champion) Connecticut four times (averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds) ...

"She was always on the floor with such great players and she was capable of making that big shot. She's got players who can get her the ball in that position. She loves being in that big-time situation. She's someone we can count on to nail that shot."

Loyd learned some critical lessons last season. The calendar has flipped. Now, it's her turn to be the veteran with the advice.

"It's all about confidence (for a freshman)," Loyd said. "'We wouldn't have recruited them if we didn't believe they could do it.' You build them up in practice. You tell them they're here for a reason. If you encourage them in practice, it's going to carry over into the game. That's one thing I learned last year."

That's a pre-game lesson. Game night, with the bright lights shining, there were other teaching tools. She managed to cope with lots of ice and tape.

"The physicality of the game was something I had to learn," Loyd said. "The tempo's quicker.

"A lot of ice bags; a lot of recovery got me through it. You're going to hit highs and lows in every season. As long as you have great senior leadership, you'll stay motivated and stay focused."

With Loyd among four starters back this season, and Lindsay Allen ticketed for point guard, Irish coach Muffet McGraw sees Loyd building on the role she carved last season.

"I don't really expect (Loyd's) role to change too much, because we relied on her so heavily," McGraw said. "She was our best defender. She was one of our leading scorers. She did so many good things.

"We want her to do a little bit more rebounding (she averaged 5.1 boards last year). We'll continue to use her as our defensive stopper (she had 33 steals). If she can score just a little bit more ...

"I don't think anyone has to carry the load scoring-wise."

"Last year, having that whole year under her belt, and playing really well in big games, her confidence level is just so high right now," Ivey said. "I knew she was going to come in and make an immediate impact, but to be able to be in a situation to start right away ... There's never a guarantee that a freshman is going to start right away.

"She got that position by the way she worked every day in practice. Big games, we could always count on her to do something. She was a scorer. She was a lock-down defender. She gave us everything we needed.

"That was kind of a surprise. She never had to play defense in high school. For us, she became our defensive stopper."

Usually not much glory on the defensive end. Somebody noticed, though.

The special ones get the job done, regardless.

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) drives past Iowa guard Jaime Printy during  a second-round game in the women's NCAA basketball tournament in March in Iowa City.