Lindsay Allen steps up her game for Notre Dame

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

Lindsay Allen may never live up to the expectations of others.

She doesn’t have to, of course. Being Lindsay Allen has been good enough thus far for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team that goes for its 20th victory of the season Thursday night at Blacksburg, Va., against Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia Tech.

If asked to name the point guard with the best record in her first 59 games in an Irish uniform, most would answer All-American Skylar Diggins, the former Indiana Miss Basketball at South Bend Washington who played in three Women’s Final Fours for head coach Muffet McGraw.

Wrong answer. It’s Allen, a 5-foot-7 sophomore from Mitchellville, Md., who is 56-3 with a Women’s Final Four appearance already, something Diggins, who was 49-10 in her first 59 games at Notre Dame, didn’t accomplish until her sophomore season.

The fact that Allen went 37-0 in her first 37 games as Notre Dame’s point guard is still hard to comprehend. The 38th game, of course, was Notre Dame’s 79-58 setback in the NCAA Championship Game to Connecticut. A 37-1 record is nothing to sneeze at nor was the play of Allen, who averaged 6.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor, including 35.7 from beyond the 3-point line, and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line.

McGraw and assistant Niele Ivey, whose fiery demeanor as the point guard helped Notre Dame to the 2001 NCAA title, wanted much, much more – more shots, more leadership.

“Lindsay came back this season with a different mindset, looking to score more,” McGraw said. “She’s been more aggressive offensively.”

“We asked (Lindsay) to be more vocal and to take more shots,” said Ivey, who realizes that not everyone can be Diggins, it did it all on the floor and the locker room for the Irish, nor can everyone be like Ivey was for McGraw. “I was super vocal. You had to shut me up.”

The good thing about Allen is she understands what her coaches and teammates need from her and she’s now got the confidence to give it to them.

“It’s really not my nature to be that type of player,” the quiet Allen said. “I think you have to be that type of person – loud, bossy and outgoing. I think I have to develop that at times. But whatever this team needs I’m willing to do, and at times I realize you have to get in someone’s face, to let them know what they have to do.”

Everyone – McGraw, Ivey, Allen and even her teammates – can see it, especially when Notre Dame gathers in the huddle at the bench or huddles before a free throw. Allen quietly gets her point across.

Mostly, though, the improvement can be seen by the numbers Allen has produced this season. In helping Notre Dame to a 19-2 start, Allen has become the team’s third-best scoring option behind junior All-American Jewell Loyd (21.6 points per game) and freshman phenom Brianna Turner (15.7), averaging 10.4 points on 56.8-percent shooting from the field (including 42.3 from behind the 3-point line) and 87.5-percent shooting from the charity stripe. Allen’s rebound and assist totals have improved as well, to 3.6 and 5.0 a game, respectively.

“My scoring has gone up, my assists have gone up, my rebounding has gone up,” Allen said. “I think there have been definitely been games where I could have been a little more aggressive looking for my shot. But that’s because some of my teammates have been wide open and they’ve had better shots than me. It just depends on the game whether I get 15 or 20 or I just get 10 or 12.”

When Allen has been needed, she has mostly delivered. When Loyd, Turner, Taya Reimer and Kathryn Westbeld encountered foul problems in the second game of the season, Allen responded with 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a 71-63 victory at Michigan State. Then when UCLA decided to stop Loyd, Allen stepped up with a then career-high 22 points with four assists in an 82-67 win in Los Angeles. She then followed that effort with 18 points and a then career-high eight assists in a 74-68 victory over Florida State.

Her best two games, though, may have come in back-to-back victories over North Carolina (89-79) and Tennessee (88-77). At Chapel Hill, Allen delivered a career-high 24 points with four rebounds and a career-high nine assists. Then against the Vols on Jan. 19 in South Bend, in perhaps her best game, Allen had 15 points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals. She made the big free throws down the stretch that kept Notre Dame in the lead.

“I think she’s developed into the type of point guard who can give us whatever we need,” Ivey said.

McGraw, who was never content as a player, expects even more. For instance, Allen has scored in double figures in just 11 of Notre Dame’s 21 games. That needs to go up, according to McGraw, if Notre Dame, the defending ACC regular-season and tournament champion, is to go deep into the postseason.

“I think there have been games where she didn’t look to score enough,” McGraw said. “After you’ve established yourself as one of the top three scorers, we need to rely on that. She also needs to be better with the basketball. I thought Clemson, when she had seven assists and one turnover, is what she is more capable of.”

Winning, of course, takes care of a lot of things. And no point guard has done it better than Lindsay Allen.

Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen (15) leads the Irish into their Thursday night road test at Virginia Tech. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)

WHO: No. 4/4 Notre Dame (19-2/6-1 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (10-

10/1-6)

WHERE: Stuart K. Cassell Coliseum (9,847), Blacksburg, Va.

WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: None. Internet. ESPN3 via the WatchESPN app

RADIO: WHPZ-FM (96.9), WHPD-FM (92.1), WatchND.tv

LIVE STATS: www.hokiesports.com

WORTH NOTING: With a victory Thursday night, Notre Dame, which is seeking its sixth straight victory since its 78-63 loss at Miami on Jan. 8, will have won 20 games for the 21st time in the last 22 seasons. … The Irish hold a 6-1 edge in the series, following last winter’s 74-48 ACC victory on Jan. 30 at the Purcell Pavilion … The Hokies had five players in double figures in last Friday’s 76-59 victory over Wake Forest in Blacksburg. Vanessa Panousis, who is second on the team in scoring with a 14.1 average to Rachel Camp’s 15.0, had 16 points, Sidney Cook had 13 and three players – Taijah Campbell, Hannah Young and Samantha Hill – had 12 points apiece as the Hokies won their first ACC game of the season. … The Tech roster has a United Nations flavor to it – Panousis and Young are from Australia, Campbell and Hill are Canadians and another player, Regan Magarity (who is sidelined for the season after calf surgery) is from Sweden. … Dennis Wolff, 41-69 in his fourth season as the Hokies’ head coach, is no stranger to coaching against Notre Dame. He brought his Boston University men’s team to the Purcell Pavilion to play good friend Mike Brey’s Irish team on Dec. 13, 2008 and dropped a 74-67 decision. … Loyd needs nine points to reach 1,600 in her career. She is currently eighth on the all-time scoring list, with Alicia Ratay (1999-2003) next on the list with 1,763 points. … The Hokies are one of the better defensive teams in the ACC, holding opponents to a 37.2 shooting percentage (fourth), including 27.5 from beyond the 3-point line (27.5 percent, second), and are sixth in rebounding margin at +5.7. … Notre Dame continues to lead the NCAA’s RPI ratings, followed by Baylor, Tennessee, Maryland, Arizona State and Connecticut. Virginia Tech is rated 189th.

WORTH QUOTING: “I thought the mindset of the team going into the Clemson game (a 74-36 victory last Saturday) was much better (than what she thought it was in an 89-76 victory over Georgia Tech last Thursday). We held them to 36 points, so I think they knew what they really needed to do to refocus.” – Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.