Notre Dame's Loyd on the brink of milestone

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

GREENSBORO, N.C. — When it comes to the pantheon of Notre Dame women’s basketball legends, few can match the accomplishments of Beth Morgan Cunningham and Skylar Diggins.

Now, Jewell Loyd is set to reach an Irish milestone that only Cunningham and Diggins have achieved to this point.

Loyd, 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, enters Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with 998 career points. Cunningham and Diggins are the only two Irish players who have so far reached that mark as a sophomore.

Loyd and the No. 1 seed Irish (31-0) stormed past No. 4 seed North Carolina State, 83-48, on Saturday to reach the ACC championship game against No. 2 seed Duke (27-5). Loyd scored 16 points to lead the Irish.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said that Loyd’s ability to near the 1,000-point club as a sophomore is testament to her special talents.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment as a sophomore to be looking at those kind of numbers, with a team as unselfish as we are, and Jewell as unselfish as she is,” McGraw said. “What a great honor for her to be in this position.”

Duke, Round 3

Notre Dame takes on Duke for the ACC Tournament title on Sunday at 7 p.m. ESPN has the telecast. Notre Dame won at Duke, 88-67, on Feb. 2, and beat the Blue Devils, 81-70, on Feb. 23, in South Bend.

“Duke has a number of All-Americans on the roster, probably as many as anybody in the country,” McGraw said. “Tricia Liston had an outstanding year. Elizabeth Williams is really a talented player inside. Haley Peters is a great glue player for them. They’ve got All-Americans on the bench.”

Bench power

Notre Dame’s Michaela Mabrey came off the Irish bench at the 14:37 mark of the first half Saturday. At the 12:33 mark, she launched an NBA-distance 3 that connected for a 16-4 lead over North Carolina State.

McGraw has seen her bench rack up 78 points in two ACC Tournament games. In Saturday’s game, the Irish bench outscored the Wolfpack 41-16, and Mabrey had 10 of those points.

“I think I’ve really embraced my role of coming off the bench,” Mabrey said. “I’m always ready to shoot and always ready to get my teammates open and in the right positions.

“I think our bench has really come along. I think in the beginning, we were struggling a little bit, but I think we’ve definitely come along very well.”

Loving the change

Senior Natalie Achonwa said that she loves the change of location from playing the Big East Tournament on Connecticut’s home court in Hartford, to playing for the ACC championship on a neutral court at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“The whole season has been really exciting to be able to play against new players, go to new arenas, playing against different teams,” Achonwa said.

“We’re having fun. We’re a competitive team, and we love to play basketball.

“It’s kind of exciting to not play in Connecticut for the conference tournament for the first time in my four years.

“To see so many different teams being represented in the arena is great. To have the turnout they have had here for women’s basketball is also really great.”

Competitive edge

Notre Dame went into attack mode from the opening tip Saturday and jumped out to a 12-0 lead on North Carolina State.

“You can tell before the game, the mind-set and the approach we have to the game,” Achonwa said of Notre Dame’s tourney attitude. “You can really tell that we’re ready and energized and ready to compete.

“That’s the biggest thing. We want to get out and run transition. We want to score. We want to defend. That competitive nature is instilled in each individual.

“It’s something special. We all hate to lose more than we love to win. That’s the biggest thing we talked about this summer. You have to hate to lose more than you love to win.”

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) is on pace to socre her 1,000th career point Sunday against Duke in the ACC Tournament title game. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)