Loyd also jewel in other sports

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

Jewell Loyd is getting plenty of attention on various All-American ballots, but basketball wasn't her best sport as a youth.

It wasn't even her second best sport.

Loyd excelled at tennis and soccer when she was younger. Tennis was the sport she thought she was best at, followed by soccer. Basketball was a distant third.

Loyd gained a reputation as an excellent serve-and-volley player on the tennis circuit in suburban Chicago.

"I tried to use my athleticism on the court," Loyd said. "A lot of girls would try to lob me, but I was able to jump pretty high, so I would catch them at the net."

When Loyd's older brother decided to focus on basketball, she decided to concentrate on the sport. She only took up tennis and soccer because that's what he was playing.

Playing tennis, though, has transferred some skills to Loyd's game.

"Tennis really helped me with my footwork and hand-eye coordination," Loyd said.

No. 16 seed Robert Morris (21-11), the first-round opponent for No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-0) in Saturday's NCAA first-round game in Toledo will get a first-hand look at Loyd's progress on the basketball court. The Colonials and Irish tip-off at 1:30 p.m. EDT (ESPN).

Underdog fans

Loyd and her Irish teammates were gathered around a large screen television set in their locker room at Savage Arena in Toledo before they were to take the court for Friday's practice. The Irish were locked into the NCAA men's basketball tournament game between No. 3 seed Duke and No. 14 seed Mercer.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock on Mercer's stunning upset, Loyd and her teammates cheered the outcome. The Irish, though, don't want any underdog magic happening on their side of the tournament.

"On the men's side, you always want to see the underdogs," Loyd said. "They play so hard, and you see that emotion ... but I don't want to see the underdogs in the women's tournament. It's called March Madness for a reason."

Senior advice

Notre Dame senior leader Kayla McBride, who has seen the Irish reach the Final Four the past three seasons, doesn't plan on saying anything to the freshmen before their first NCAA Tournament game.

"I think it's good for them to feel it out for themselves at first," McBride said. "I think they will have a little bit of jitters, but they have played in some big games and some great environments, so I think they're ready."

Different style

Artemis Spanou, a 6-foot-2 senior from Greece, leads Robert Morris with 19.8 points and 14.8 rebounds a game.

Irish senior Natalie Achonwa, who played for Canada in the 2012 Olympics, said that her international experience will help her defend Spanou.

"I've played against many European styles, and I'm really excited to play against a player who leads the nation in double-doubles," Achonwa said.

Tough watching

Robert Morris coach Sal Buscaglia said it's been tough showing his team Notre Dame games that his staff taped off of television broadcasts.

"I was fearful while I was watching the games on ESPN," Buscaglia said. "I wanted to White-Out the score."

Buscaglia said even in games against ranked opponents, the Irish would roll up big leads early.

"When you see them up by 30 at the half against the No. 14 team in the country (North Carolina State) ... it's not like you're talking about being up 30 at the half on the No. 100 team in the country," Buscaglia said. "We're talking about teams that are seventh, eighth, ninth in the country, and Notre Dame is doing that to them."

CRallo@SBTinfo.com Twitter: rallo NDInsider

Considering her athleticism, it's no surprise that Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd excelled at multiple sports as a child. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)