Notre Dame's Loyd may miss two games

South Bend Tribune

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - It could have been worse.

Notre Dame standout Jewell Loyd, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard who averages 16.9 points and 6.1 rebounds, has been diagnosed with a knee sprain suffered in Monday’s 86-70 victory at No. 12 Tennessee.

Loyd has been listed as doubtful for Thursday’s game against Miami.

It’s possible Loyd may also miss Monday’s game at No. 6 Maryland.

She suffered the injury in the final minutes of Monday’s victory, when she was fouled and hit the floor hard.

“That was a tough one to sweat out,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said of waiting for the medical results on Loyd’s injury. “It could have been a lot worse. It could have been maybe four weeks. We’re fortunate that it’s only a few days. She’ll be wearing a brace. We’ll see when she can go. Miracles can happen, so we’re not ruling out her playing against Miami, but we’ll look at her and see how it goes. It truly is day-to-day.”

Loyd will be a big absence.

“It’s going to be difficult to go without her,” McGraw said. “She does so many things for us, rebounding, defense, scoring. It will be another opportunity for somebody on the bench to step up and play a bigger role.”

Valuable trip

McGraw didn’t want to come back to Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena this season, where eight national championship banners hang and 13,000 boisterous fans sing “Rocky Top” throughout the game.

On Monday night, after the No. 2-ranked Irish fell into a 12-point hole, McGraw would see that the trip would turn out to be a good thing.

Notre Dame pulled off a stunning 28-point swing, using runs of 17-3 and 13-0 in the second half to roll to an 86-70 victory. After losing the first 20 games of the series, Notre Dame has now beaten the Volunteers four times in a row, including the last two meetings at Thompson-Boling Arena, where Tennessee has a winning percentage of more than 90 percent.

“I was opposed to coming back here,” McGraw said. “(Tennessee coach Holly Warlick) really begged me to do a home game for Tennessee, and we worked it out. It’s a great road win. It’s great for our RPI. It’s great for our program, to know we can come into a hostile environment like this and win a big game. I’m really, really pleased.”

Tennessee, which needed a marquee non-conference game for its home schedule, will play at Notre Dame the next two seasons.

McGraw said she hopes the series with Tennessee continues beyond the current contract.

“It's a great game for our fans to see and we'll get a good crowd,” McGraw said. “It's just a great game to play. Whenever you can play a top 10 team I think it helps your team."

Next up for No. 2 Notre Dame (17-0, 4-0 ACC) is a game at home against Miami (10-7, 2-2) on Thursday. Tip-off is 8:30 p.m. EST.

Bench strength

Notre Dame’s most critical stretch in the second half came with Irish reserves Michaela Mabrey, Madison Cable and Taya Reimer delivering the punches. Notre Dame hit three consecutive 3-pointers, two by Mabrey and one by Cable, and had a gutty three-point play by Reimer to highlight runs of 17-3 and 13-0.

Mabrey has been particularly lethal off the bench. After an 0-for-9 slump from 3-point range, Mabrey, a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, has hit 13 of her last 20 attempts from 3-point range.

“I always get excited when a team plays zone,” Mabrey said of punishing Tennessee’s defense. “We really don’t work on it as much as we work on man-to-man, but we’re pretty comfortable with it. Once it goes inside, I’m always spotting up, wherever it is. (Tennessee) really didn’t keep their eye on me. My teammates found me, and I found some good shots.

“When I see a zone, my eyes are wide open. I love when a team plays a zone, because I know I’m going to get some good looks. I wasn’t hitting early, but I knew one of them was going to fall. When it did, I had all the confidence in the world.”

McGraw said the bench play was critical.

“(Mabrey and Cable) were just phenomenal,” McGraw said. “Their confidence was outstanding to come in and produce at critical moments of the game. And defensively, they made some great plays, too. Maddie had that huge steal. Maddie got some rebounds. They did their job at both ends of the floor. I thought, despite the fouls, Taya Reimer really made some outstanding contributions. She scored around the basket.’’

Toughness emerges

There have been times this season when McGraw said her team was a little too nice.

Nice got shoved aside by nasty on Monday night, when the Irish erased a 12-point deficit and ran away with a 16-point victory.

“I think this team showed a lot of toughness,” senior leader Kayla McBride said. “This was basically an NCAA Tournament game, with that environment, playing a great team with a hostile crowd, for us to come from behind and win shows a lot about this team.”

McBride and Natalie Achonwa got the Irish fortunes turned around during a 6-0 run to close the first half, and delivered a message about toughness at halftime.

“I think Ace (Natalie Achonwa) and I looked at each other, and we know when our team is a little shaky, and you could tell in the first half,” McBride said. “We talked about it at halftime. We knew that we had that little run to end the first half, and we tried to carry it into the second half, and we were able to and get the win.”

According to McBride, the senior leadership kept the Irish from panicking when they got down 12.

“I think it comes from experience,” McBride said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with Ariel and Ace out there. We’re a veteran group. We’ve been through so much, three Final Fours. We’ve been in these types of environments in NCAA Tournament games. We just had to calm everybody down and execute the game plan.”

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) reacts after sustaining a knee injury in the second half of a women's NCAA college basketball game on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)