McGraw's milestone win comes on special day

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame’s players wore white uniforms with pink trim, and brilliant pink shoes.

Notre Dame’s coaches wore a touch of pink in each of their outfits.

Notre Dame’s fans roared their approval when pink spotlights accompanied the introduction of the Irish before Sunday’s game.

Sunday’s 101-64 victory over Syracuse was the annual Pink Zone game, in which the Irish fans raise money for education, support, research and screenings in the fight against breast cancer. The national initiative, which usually finds Notre Dame at the top in terms of funds raised, is called “Play 4 Kay,” honoring the late North Carolina State coach Kay Yow. Yow passed away at the age of 66 in 2009 after a nearly 20-year fight against breast cancer.

Notre Dame’s romp against Syracuse was the 737th victory in Irish head coach Muffet McGraw’s career, tieing her with Yow for 11th on the all-time wins list in Division I women’s basketball.

Tying Yow on the day when teams across the nation honored the coaching legend was not lost on McGraw.

“Kay Yow was an incredible woman,” McGraw said. “She did so many things for the game, a great ambassador for women’s basketball. A coach that everybody loved, which is kind of hard to do that in this game, but she was so well respected by her players, her coaches, her peers. She left a mark for all of us to try to follow. She did everything with such grace and dignity.”

Big improvement

Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman remembers Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd last season, when the 5-foot-10 freshman guard was 3-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-2 from 3-point range.

Loyd scored eight points in the game, which the Irish won, 79-68.

On Sunday, the sophomore Loyd hit a 3 for Notre Dame’s first basket, and went on to score 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. She was 2-of-3 from 3-point range in leading the No. 2-ranked Irish to a 101-64 rout.

“Last year, we wouldn’t have guarded her out there,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. “She was a shooter we called ‘no close-out kid.’ Now, we have to go. She’s tremendous and she had a great game and almost shot 100 percent.

“… She’s just balanced, and our scouting report simply says play her honest. Play her for the shot, play her for the drive. She’s getting better every game, not just this year.”

Loyd was caught off guard by Hillsman’s comments.

“I shot better last year than I did this year from 3s,” said Loyd, who hit 41 percent from 3-point range last season compared to 37 percent this season. “That’s interesting. Shots are going to go in, or not. It was just a good day.”

Lately, Loyd has boosted her 3-point shooting. She is 8-of-13 from behind the arc in her last four games (62 percent).

“I’m getting in more reps, and just knowing that I can shoot,” Loyd said. “I’m not trying to force it. I’m taking what the defense can give me.”

Loyd hopes to keep her hot hand on Thursday when the Irish (23-0, 10-0 ACC) play at Boston College (12-13, 3-8). Tip-off is at 7 p.m. EST.

Board work

In Notre Dame’s last four games, it has averaged 8.25 offensive rebounds. Against Syracuse, the Irish had 20, which led to a 32-19 edge in second-chance points. The Irish average 14.0 offensive rebounds a game this season.

Notre Dame’s 20 offensive rebounds were the most by the Irish in ACC play, and the most since a 70-58 victory against Oregon State on Dec. 29.

“It was a phenomenal effort,” McGraw said. “We got outrebounded in the Florida State game and we weren’t happy about that. We gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse, which is not a good stat for us. I think we’re doing a pretty good job, overall. I think we can rebound better, I think certain people can rebound better. I thought Ariel Braker came in and gave us a really big lift on the offensive glass, at times, and I think (Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride) can rebound more.”

Braker had five rebounds – four on the offensive boards – in 15 minutes of play. Loyd and McBride had two offensive rebounds each on Sunday.

Alley oop

Notre Dame’s 6-3 senior post Natalie Achonwa drew a huge ovation when she pulled off an alley oop on a lob from Loyd.

“I saw her, and I know she can get up there,” Loyd said. “It was one of those things.

“It was eye connection. I saw her going, and she gave me the hand. I was like, ‘All right. We’ll do it.’ I trust her. She finished. It was a good play. It was good for the crowd and good for the game.”

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is now tied for 11th on the all-time wins list in women's college basketball  (AP Photo/JOE RAYMOND)