Jewell Loyd focused on starting a new streak for Notre Dame

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND -- On a Monday during which Notre Dame celebrates the accomplishments of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Tennessee women’s basketball coach emeritus Pat Summitt and the longevity of Notre Dame’s own head coach Muffet McGraw, there’s something else to celebrate: The end of a remarkable scoring streak and the maturation of the player, Jewell Loyd, who orchestrated it.

Regardless the sport, coaches always say that at crunch time they want the ball in their best player’s hands. McGraw is no different than others in her fraternity.

When it matters most during a game, she wants the basketball in the hands of Loyd, her junior All-America guard from Lincolnwood, Ill. Such moments came at the end of Notre Dame’s Top 25 showdown last Thursday night at Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina. As the clock ticked toward zero in what eventually would be a hard-fought 89-79 victory for Notre Dame, Loyd several times got her hands on the basketball and each time made a statement: Instead of taking it to the basket, Loyd decided to look for a better option.

Playing at less than 100 percent because of a two-day battle with the mother of all colds, one that had sapped her strength but not her will to play, Loyd each time thought about her team first and not about herself, particularly with the knowledge that her 60-game streak of scoring 10 or more points in a game was nearing final jeopardy.

So it seems only appropriate that the impressive streak that began on March 12, 2013, when then freshman Loyd scored 16 points in Notre Dame’s 61-59 victory over Connecticut in the Big East Tournament championship game, would end with the ball in Loyd’s hands as the buzzer sounded Jan. 15, 2015, and the score sheet showing her with eight points.

Loyd’s post-game smile spoke volumes, just as many as McGraw can’t help speaking about her Jewell of a player.

“You sometimes catch yourself watching Jewell and enjoying it like a fan would, and just being thankful she’s on our team,” said McGraw, who celebrates her 900th game as Notre Dame’s head coach against 15-2 Tennessee.

“Jewell has really matured,” McGraw said. “She’s a much

more cerebral player. She’s just really special.”

If you didn’t know how extraordinary a player she truly is, Loyd’s scoring line for 36 minutes of play would seem just ordinary: Eight points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field (including 0-of-1 from beyond the 3-point line), and 0-for-0 from the free-throw line, where she has converted this season at an 84.3-percent clip.

Consider this, too: The last basket Loyd scored, a jumper in the paint after she made a steal four seconds earlier, gave Notre Dame a 48-46 lead with 17:31 remaining in the second half. It gave Notre Dame the lead for good and ignited an 18-4 run that put the Irish in command with 12:50 to go.

Now here’s the rest of Loyd’s stat line: Three defensive rebounds, three steals, two big blocked shots and six assists, against just two turnovers and one personal foul. Of course, there was the big road victory coming a week after a 78-63 stunning loss at Miami where Loyd scored 27 points and had seven rebounds, but left brokenhearted.

“Oh, if (the cold) had been really bad, I would have sat out,” Loyd said. “I was a little slow, for sure. I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team. Everyone who sees me score a lot (she has had 20-or-more points 11 times this season, including 31 points against Connecticut and a career-high 41 points at DePaul) takes a look at that and thinks I had a bad game. But to me, the six assists were big because they came at crucial times.”

Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen, who had career highs in points (24) and assists (nine) against the Tar Heels, still finds herself in awe of Loyd.

“Jewell can impact the game in so many ways,” Allen said. “She uses her speed on defense and offense. She has a nice jump shot. She sees the floor so very well. I think there is an underrated part of her game -- her passing. She’s a great rebounder; she can jump really high. She had a couple of nice blocks in (Thursday’s) game. Her shot may not have been falling, but she impacted the game and played really hard.”

That’s part of the maturation of Jewell Loyd, something McGraw has been privileged to watch ever since the summer of 2008 when Loyd, an incoming freshman, and her Niles West High School team came to Notre Dame’s summer camp.

“I knew pretty much after the first five minutes of the first time I saw Jewell that she was going to be a special player,” McGraw said. “She knows what she can do.

“She was not feeling well, but I knew she was going to play, and to play as long as we needed her...,” McGraw added. “She still played well, but in other areas.”

“It’s just basketball,” Loyd said with a snicker between sniffles. “The streak ends but a new streak is going to begin.”

One streak remains in play. She has never missed a Final Four in her two-plus seasons at Notre Dame, which is seeking its fifth straight.

Now that would be the ultimate streak and celebration for Jewell Loyd.

King and Summitt

With Monday being a national holiday to honor Dr. King, McGraw reflected at her desk, with a picture of Dr. King linking hands with Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Theodore Hesburgh at a civil-rights rally back in the 1960s, what honoring him and another groundbreaker, Summitt, means to her team.

“It’s a great day for a game,” McGraw said. “It’s a great celebration of what Dr. King accomplished in his life and a great day to honor Pat Summit, who will be watching the game in Tennessee while battling Alzheimer’s. 

There are special moments planned to honor both Dr. King and Summitt. Notre Dame is wearing special “We Back Pat” shirts in support of the Southeastern Conference’s weeklong celebration of Summitt and her medical foundation that seeks a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

JEWELL OF A STREAK

Stats from Jewell Loyd's 60-game streak of 10 points or more

YEAR W-L  MIN  FG 3PT  FT  TP  RBDS PF A  TO-BLK-S
2012-13 (5-1) 201  37-78  8-15 16-19 98 19-14-33 10 11 12-0-4
2013-14 (36-1) 1104  267-516 35-88 118-146 687 97-142-239 51 79 65-18-58
2014-15 (15-2) 501 127-268 15-48 97-115 366  25-67-92 20 53 35-10-30
TOTALS (56-4) 1806 431-862 58-151 231-280 1151  141-223-364 81 143 112-28-92
AVG.  30.1% 50.0% 38.4% 82.5% 19.2 6.1 1.4 2.4 1.9-0.5-1.5

Began: March 12, 2013 when Loyd scored 16 points in Notre Dame’s 61-59 victory over Connecticut in the Big East Tournament championship game at Hartford, Conn. In the previous game, an 83-59 Big East Tournament semifinal victory over Louisville on March 11, 2013, Loyd was held to eight points.

Ended: January 15, 2015 when Loyd was held to 8 points in Notre Dame’s 89-79 victory over North Carolina in Atlantic Coast Conference game at Chapel Hill, N.C. In the previous game, a 104-58 ACC victory over Boston College at the Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 11, 2015, Loyd was held to eight points.

Notre Dame junior guard Jewell Loyd attempts a shot against Boston College's Martina Mosetti Sunday January 11, 2015 in South Bend. The Fighting Irish defeated the Eagles 104-58. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ

WHO: No. 7/7 Notre Dame (16-2) vs. No. 6/6 Tennessee (15-2)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), South Bend.

WHEN: Monday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Game is expected to be a sellout. To check availability, call the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office at (574) 631-7356.

TV: ESPN2. Game also streamed live on WatchND and WatchESPN.

RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9)/WHPD-FM (92.1)