Allen far from a weak link for Notre Dame women

South Bend Tribune

On a starting lineup with three All-America candidates, a senior who is a two-year starter and a freshman, it’s easy to figure out the target.

And while opposing teams have tried picking on Notre Dame point guard Lindsay Allen, the 5-foot-9 rookie has helped the Irish stay unbeaten.

Allen’s next challenge comes Monday night, when the No. 2 Irish (18-0, 5-0 ACC) play at No. 6 Maryland (16-2, 4-1). Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. (ESPN2) at Maryland’s Comcast Center, which is only about 20 minutes from Allen’s hometown of Mitchellville, Md.

Notre Dame played without leading scorer Jewell Loyd (16.9 ppg) in a 79-52 victory against Miami on Thursday. Loyd’s status is uncertain for the Maryland game. The sophomore guard suffered a knee sprain last Monday at Tennessee.

With Loyd out, Miami targeted Allen. She responded with 16 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

"We tried to come after her,” Miami coach Katie Meier said of Allen. “Obviously, their backcourt took a big hit, and we were trying to speed (Allen) up and force her in a direction she didn't want to go. She kept her poise very well. Lindsay didn't crack."

Allen averages 7.7 points and 3.7 assists. Her shooting has been exceptional. She is 47-of-84 (56 percent), 11-of-22 from 3-point range (50 percent), and 33-of-41 free-throw shooting (81 percent).

ESPN analyst Kara Lawson, who will be providing analysis on the Big Monday telecast, said Allen is taking advantage of an Irish lineup that returned four starters.

“I think (Allen) came into a good situation, just because the offense Notre Dame runs, they have multiple players who can initiate,” Lawson said. “She didn’t have to come in and just be the player on every play. She’s got two All-American wings with her. That’s kind of allowed her to not have as much pressure and progress at a nice rate.”

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said that Allen’s development has been steady.

“I’m really, really happy with her,” McGraw said. “She’s coming off a big game against Miami. It’s nice to see her be able to do that.

“I think Lindsay is at a point where she really understands her role and where her scoring opportunities are going to come. There are going to be games where we don’t need her to score, and there are going to be games where we really need her to score. I think she sees the difference.”

Notre Dame will need to be hitting on all cylinders on Monday. It will be the third time the Irish have played on a Top 10 team’s home court.

Maryland leads the ACC and is fifth in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-12.9) and is in the top 10 in the nation in scoring margin (plus-24.7), scoring offense (84.8), field-goal percentage (.482), free-throw percentage (.778) and assists (19.5).

Alyssa Thomas, a 6-foot-2 senior, leads the Maryland attack. Thomas leads the nation in double-doubles (16) and has two triple-doubles this season.

She averages 18.3 points and 11.1 rebounds. She is No. 4 on the school’s all-time scoring list with 2,020 points and needs 228 more to break Crystal Langhorne’s record of 2,247.

She’s also No. 4 all-time with 1,054 rebounds.

“Thomas poses some problems,” said Lawson, a former Tennessee star who plays in the WNBA for the Connecticut Sun. “She’s big and she’s strong, but she plays a lot on the perimeter. She’s a player who can get the defensive rebound and take it coast-to-coast. If you put a wing on her, they don’t have the strength to contend with her. If you try to put a 4 player on her, they don’t have the ability to stay with her when she faces up.”

Thomas scored 27 points in Maryland’s last game, an 86-72 upset loss at Virginia. Maryland’s other loss was a 77-52 setback to No. 1 Connecticut.

Lawson said that she isn’t surprised by Notre Dame’s success this season.

“Having watched them the last few years, you saw them building their depth, and those players becoming really good players in their own right,” Lawson said. “Kayla McBride was an All-American last year. Anyone who watched Jewell Loyd play last year saw how far advanced she was defensively. When she got her opportunities at the offensive end, she capitalized. You knew she would develop into one of the top players in the country. Natalie Achonwa has been consistent through her career. Those two freshmen — Lindsay and Taya (Reimer) — are so talented coming in. Then you look at (Michaela) Mabrey and (Madison) Cable and (Ariel) Braker, they bring so much to the team.”

Advancing to three consecutive Final Fours is paying a dividend for the Irish this season, according to Lawson.

“I think you have to consider the culture of success,” Lawson said. “These players expect to be in the Final Four. They expect to be a top team. They expect to win games. That’s something that, even if you have talent, say at another program, it’s hard to put into players, to put into a group, the expectation of winning and the expectation of competing for a championship.

“That culture more than anything is what gave me the belief that Notre Dame would pick up right where it left off.”

Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen (15) looks to put up a shot against Tennessee guard Andraya Carter during a women's NCAA college basketball game on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Knoxville, Tenn. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER )

•WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (18-0, 5-0 ACC) vs. No. 6 Maryland (16-2, 4-1)

WHERE: Comcast Center, College Park, Md.

•WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday


RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9, 92.1)

•ONLINE: www.und.com

TICKETS: Available