Notre Dame women’s basketball: Irish man-to-man not ready

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Defensive intensity has been a trademark of Notre Dame women’s basketball teams.

Relentless, pressing defenses that produce fastbreak layups have haunted Irish opponents, especially the past three seasons as the Irish stormed to three consecutive Final Fours.

This season, the Irish are searching for the defensive identity that can lead to transition points. It started to surface in Notre Dame’s 96-46 victory against Valparaiso on Saturday. The Irish used 18 steals to help fuel a 16-0 advantage in fastbreak points.

But the Irish are largely relying on a zone defense as Irish coach Muffet McGraw waits for the man-to-man to develop.

“We’re not as good man-to-man,” McGraw said. “We’re kind of grasping for an identity. We’re good at scrambling and taking risks, but we’re not so good at just containing the ball one-on-one. The zone helps with that, because there’s always somebody to help.”

According to McGraw, the key elements of the man-to-man are effort and discipline. She likes the effort, but the discipline and adherence to defensive principles in the man-to-man has been lacking. The Irish need to develop the man-to-man in order to be less predictable.

“We’re doing a better job of not fouling,” McGraw said of the zone. “I thought the zone was pretty good. I thought we were pretty active in the zone. We got a lot of steals.

“I thought we made a lot of adjustments from the bench to the floor. They were running a certain offense that we talked about in the huddle, and they went out and executed defensively exactly what we talked about, and I was pleased with that. It’s a new thing for us, playing a lot of zone. I think we can be a little more active and maybe foul less, and still keep pressure on the ball.”

Transition game

Freshman point guard Lindsay Allen didn’t rack up many assists in the Valparaiso game – she had two – but McGraw thought Allen’s passing led to plenty of Irish points, especially when she initiated the fastbreak.

Allen’s confidence is growing in running the Irish transition game.

“I was just trying to get on the break, get some steals, and push the ball,” Allen said. “I’m feeling more confident in running the transition. It’s our best asset as a team, getting out and pushing the ball, because we’re more athletic than most of the teams we play.

“It’s instinctive, now. You get a rebound and just go. You’re getting alley-oops from Jewell Loyd, pushing the ball, getting layups. It’s definitely demoralizing to the other team. You get the rebound and we’re already beating them down the court before they even have a chance to find out who they’re guarding.”

Sibling rivalry

By leading the Irish to a convincing victory against the Crusaders, Jewell Loyd won bragging rights over her brother, Jarryd Loyd, a former Valparaiso University men’s basketball player. Jewell Loyd scored 22 points in 21 minutes against Valpo.

“He just said, ‘Good luck. Take it to them,’” Jewell said about calling her brother before the Valpo game. “It’s kind of funny, playing Valpo, because I’ve been to their gym, I know their song and everything.”

Key area

Valparaiso second-year coach Tracey Dorow said the South Bend area will be a recruiting priority for her staff.

“There are some very, very good players in this area,” Dorow said. “We were recruiting some of them. But when we got the position (hired) last year, it was so late, that some of them, players like (Penn’s) Caroline Buhr, had already narrowed down what they were looking at (San Diego). But we will definitely be looking at the area. …. We’d love to have local kids, because there’s a lot of talent here, especially in the northernmost part of the state.”

Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw embraces the campus changes that will bring her program a new practice facility. (AP photo)