Loyd's big play ignites Notre Dame

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- It was a play that started and finished with Jewell Loyd.

The Notre Dame sophomore guard stole a Virginia Tech pass and made a quick dish to Lindsay Allen, who was sprinting along the left side of the court.

Then, Loyd used the white block on the lane as her launching pad, soaring to take an alley-oop pass from Allen.

Despite being in traffic, Loyd hit a tough airborne layup, and sent the No. 2 Irish soaring to a 74-48 victory in ACC women’s basketball action.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Irish senior Kayla McBride said of the Loyd’s impact play. “It’s a momentum swing. When you see Jewell go for that alley-oop, it’s amazing. You don’t see that many times in women’s college basketball. It’s exciting for the team and shows how much women’s basketball has grown. It really got the crowd involved.”

Notre Dame (20-0, 7-0) travels No. 3 Duke (21-1, 8-0) Sunday in a battle for sole possession of first place in the ACC. Tip-off at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is 2 p.m. on ESPN. Virginia Tech, held to a season-low in points, drops to 10-10 and 0-7 in the ACC.

Notre Dame is off to its second-best start in school history behind the 23-0 mark in 2000-2001. The Irish boast a school-record 42 consecutive regular-season victories and walked off the Purcell Pavilion court a winner for the 22nd straight time.

McBride led the Irish attack with 18 points, and Loyd finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Freshman post Taya Reimer scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Natalie Achonwa scored 10 points and had five rebounds.

Vanessa Panousis led the Hokies with 12 points. Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-1 Uju Ugoka, who was second in the ACC with an average of 20.2 points, was held to just 10.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said her team needed energy after a sluggish start.

“I thought it brought us energy,” McGraw said of Loyd’s alley-oop. “She had a spurt where she had three baskets in a row. We just needed something to get the crowd going. We’d been so dead in terms of our pace, our effort at both ends of the floor. We looked like we were just going through the motions. That really perked the crowd up. It was good to see that we had a little bit of energy in our tank.”

Madison Cable came off the bench to provide a spark with a career-high 13 rebounds.

“That was a difficult game to play in between Maryland and Duke,” McGraw said. “There were some crazy scores (Thursday night). Maryland lost to N.C. State, Duke (beat Miami by one). I think it’s that time of the year where it’s hard to find energy, especially from the starters, so you really need somebody on the bench to come in and just give you a shot. I thought Madison Cable did a really good job of that.”

Notre Dame only hit three of its first 11 shots before heating up later in the first half. Virginia Tech closed to 22-18 with 5:41 left in the first half.

That’s when Notre Dame went on a 15-1 run to bolt to a 37-19 halftime lead. The Irish ended up shooting 13-of-29 (45 percent) in the first half and finished at 51 percent (26-of-51) for the game.

“It’s all about mental toughness,” McBride said. “It’s just coming in. We’re tired, starting school, all that other stuff; we have a big game coming up. It’s a matter of executing and going out there and continuing to play hard and stay aggressive. We came out a little flat, but we got it done.

“We had that 15-1 run at the end of the first half. It was just getting the ball inside, which was what Coach wanted us to do. They went to a 2-3 towards the end of the first half, and we just started getting inside and getting easy looks. We started getting steals and turnovers and getting in transition. We just started hitting shots.”

Reimer’s 15 points and 5-of-7 shooting highlighted a strong Irish post presence.

“I was just trying to be more aggressive,” Reimer said. “I haven’t been happy with the way I’ve been playing the past few days. I talked to the coaches and talked to a few of the teammates. Around this time of the season, it’s hard for a freshman to stay consistent and stay aggressive. I’ve been trying to focus on that, and I tried to do that (against Virginia Tech).”

Virginia Tech couldn’t solve Notre Dame’s defense. The Hokies were handcuffed in their final 10 possessions of the first half, going 0-of-6 with four turnovers. The 19 points were the fewest allowed by the Irish in a half this season.

“They might have been sleeping a little bit prior to that, and I’ve been talking about trying to avoid those types of runs,” said Virginia Tech coach Dennis Wolff. “We were kind of in it until that four-minute mark, and then it kind of got away from us, and it is difficult for us to make up that ground against this kind of team.”

VIRGINIA TECH (10-10): Vanessa Panousis 4-11 2-2 12, Taijah Campbell 2-5 0-0 4, Uju Ugoka 4-13 2-3 10, Monet Tellier 3-13 1-4 8, Nia Evans 1-4 0-0 2, Serafina Maulupe 0-3 2-2 2, Hannah Young 1-7 0-0 2, Lauren Evans 1-1 1-2 3, Maddison Penn 0-0 0-0 0, Porschia Hadley 0-0 0-0 0, Samantha Hill 1-2 0-0 3, Kelsey Conyers 0-1 0-0 0, Tara Nahodil 0-2 2-4 2. Totals 17-62 10-17 48.

NOTRE DAME (20-0): Ariel Braker 0-0 0-0 0, Lindsay Allen 3-3 0-0 7, Kayla McBride 5-9 8-8 18, Jewell Loyd 6-15 0-0 14, Natalie Achonwa 4-5 2-4 10, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 2-4 1-2 5, Taya Reimer 5-7 5-5 15, Madison Cable 1-3 0-0 3, Michaela Mabrey 0-5 0-0 0, Hannah Huffman 0-0 2-3 2, Markisha Wright 0-0 0-0 0, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-51 18-22 74.

Halftime — Notre Dame 37-19. 3-Point Goals — Virginia Tech 4-13 (Panousis 2-7, Hill 1-1, Tellier 1-2, Young 0-1, N. Evans 0-2), Notre Dame 4-11 (Loyd 2-4, Allen 1-1, Cable 1-2, McBride 0-1, Mabrey 0-3). Fouled Out — Campbell. Rebounds — Virginia Tech 34 (Ugoka 7), Notre Dame 41 (Cable 13). Assists — Virginia Tech 12 (Ugoka 4), Notre Dame 19 (Allen 8). Total Fouls — Virginia Tech 18, Notre Dame 15. A — 8,556.

CRallo@SBTinfo.com

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd gets basket on an alley-oop pass from teammate Lindsay Allen (15) a during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech women's basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) shoots a three-pointer in front of Virginia Tech's Nia Evans during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech women's basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) turns the ball next to Virginia Tech's Samantha Hill during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech women's basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) reaches out for a rebound next to Virginia Tech's Hannah Young during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech women's basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN