Loyd stands tall when it matters for ND women in win over Duke

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Notre Dame has asked a lot from Jewell Loyd this season, particularly on the offensive end of the basketball court, and the junior All-American and ACC Player of the Year has most often responded.

But during a game in which every rebound was going to be big, Loyd had maybe Notre Dame’s biggest rebound – an offensive one at that – and the second-ranked Irish moved a step closer to finishing off their second Atlantic Coast Conference season with a second straight sweep of the regular-season and tournament titles.

The 5-foot-11 Chicagoland native had a team-high 21 points, but it was her eight rebounds to help Notre Dame gather a 42-36 advantage against a taller Duke squad Saturday that particularly stood out in a 55-49 ACC Tournament semifinal victory at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“I thought Jewell Loyd took over the game,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Five baskets in a row … had some amazing offensive production. Then the offensive rebound off the missed free throw (with 1:29 to play and Notre Dame up 51-46) I thought was just huge to seal the win. ... I thought in that stretch, (she was) definitely the best player in the country.”

Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie didn’t disagree. “Jewell Loyd is a great player, she’s very, very good,” McCallie said. “I think she’s the best in the country. And she was the difference in the game.”

Next up for Notre Dame is a rematch against No. 2 seed Florida State (29-3), which held off third-seeded Louisville’s second-half run for a 66-51 victory. The Irish and Seminoles last played on Jan. 2 in the ACC regular-season opener for both at the Purcell Pavilion and the Irish escaped with a 74-68 victory, their smallest margin of victory prior to Saturday's game.

There were other reasons why the 30-2 Irish, who reached the 30-victory plateau for the fifth straight season (and seventh overall) under McGraw, beat the Blue Devils (21-10) for the second time this season. The Irish, who shot just 30 percent in the first half and 38.6 percent for the game, held Duke to 32.2 percent shooting, including 25.9 percent in the first 20 minutes.

Notre Dame’s 3-point defenders, who pitched a shutout (0-for-12) in the teams’ first meeting (a 63-50 victory Feb. 16 in South Bend), had another whitewash going Saturday for almost 30 minutes before Rebecca Greenwell made the first of three 3-pointers by Duke in the final 10:05. In 13 attempts, Duke finished with just those three – the same number Michaela Mabrey hit in the first 7:29 as Notre Dame built a 13-2 lead.

But more important, Notre Dame won the battle of the boards after losing it 45-37 Feb 16. With 6-foot-3 freshman Brianna Turner hauling in a game-high 11 (to go with a game-high three blocks and eight points) and 6-foot-2 freshman Kathryn Westbeld adding nine rebounds (to go with four points, three assists and three steals) and Loyd contributing eight, the Irish cut down Duke’s taller timbers.

Four-time All-ACC center Elizabeth Williams (6-foot-3) led Duke with 15 points and had eight rebounds.

Freshman guard Azura Stevens (6-foot-5), senior forward Amber Henson (6-foot-4) and sophomore center Kendall Cooper (6-foot-4) combined for only 12 rebounds.

Right from the beginning Saturday, the Irish were focused on boxing out, grabbing seven of the first 10 rebounds available.

“That was one of the keys to the game,” McGraw said. “We really felt it was just going to start with a box out, and that’s something we just haven’t been doing especially well this year. But I thought we had just great intensity and focus on the box-out. I thought Kathryn in particular really did a great job. Bri was able to get some balls, but I thought Kathryn was really physical inside.”

Westbeld, quiet by nature but seemingly getting better with each game, was almost modest in appraising her afternoon. “Just focusing on the defensive end and I think that’s the way I contributed the most,” she said.

McCallie was disappointed her team wasn’t as aggressive as the Irish inside.

“I think they worked harder for position,” she noted. “That’s something we’ll take back to practice. That’s really disappointing.”

Loyd scored 14 of Notre Dame’s last 18 points when Duke (21-10), which had dug itself out of a 26-15 halftime hole, made things interesting in the last 10 minutes, getting within five on three occasions and once within four – 50-46 – with 2:19 remaining. That was the score after Lindsay Allen rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Rebecca Greenwell, drove the ball up court and sent an alley-oop pass to freshman Brianna Turner.

Duke’s Kendall Cooper pushed Turner, who made the first of the bonus for a 51-46 lead. But after a Duke timeout, Turner missed the second.

And then Loyd saved the day with the basketball smarts honed back in Lincolnwood, Ill., in pickup games with brother Jarryd, who played at Valparaiso and overseas as a professional.

“I heard a Duke player say she’s by herself, so they were going to pinch on the other side,” Loyd recalled. “So I just knew I could at least get in there and make a tip out and luckily it bounced right to me. So I just went right in there and got it.”

It was Loyd’s only offensive rebound of the game – and Notre Dame’s third of the half – but it allowed the Irish to run some clock, and Taya Reimer eventually found Loyd for an easy basket and a 53-46 lead with 1:15 to go.

• NOTRE DAME 55, DUKE 49

At Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum

DUKE (49): Azura Stevens 5-12 1-4 11, Amber Henson 0-7 1-2 1, Elizabeth Williams 7-17 1-2 15, Ka’lia Johnson 3-7 5-6 12, Rebecca Greenwell 2-10 0-0 6, Mercedes Riggs 0-0 0-0 0, Kendall Cooper 2-6 0-1 4, Erin Mathias 0-0 0-0 0, TOTALS 19-59 8-14 49.

NOTRE DAME (55): Brianna Turner 3-8 2-6 8, Taya Reimer 3-6 0-0 6, Lindsay Allen 2-6 1-1 5, Michaela Mabrey 3-9 0-0 9, Jewell Loyd 9-19 2-4 21, Madison Cable 0-3 2-2 2, Kathryn Westbeld 2-6 0-0 4, TOTALS 22-57 7-13 55.

Halftime: Notre Dame 26, Duke 15.

Shooting: Duke 19 of 59 for 32.2 percent; Notre Dame 22 of 57 for 38.6 percent. 3-point shooting: Duke 3 of 13 (Greenwell 2-4, Johnson 1-4, Cooper 0-1, Stevens 0-2, Henson 0-2) for 23.1 percent; Notre Dame 4 of 15 (Mabrey 3-9, Loyd 1-3, Allen 0-1, Cable 0-2). Free-throw shooting: Duke 8 of 14 for 57.1 percent; Notre Dame 7 of 13 for 53.8 percent. Rebounds: Duke 36 (Williams 8, Stevens 6, Greenwell 5, Johnson 4); Notre Dame 42 (Turner 11, Westbeld 9, Loyd 8, Reimer 3, Allen 3, Cable 3). Assists: Duke 9 (Stevens 3, Cooper 3, Johnson 2); Notre Dame 12 (Allen 4, Loyd 3, Westbeld 3). Turnovers: Duke 12 (Williams 3, Johnson 3, Cooper 2, Henson 2); Notre Dame 16 (Loyd 5, Westbeld 3). Blocked shots: Duke 3 (Henson 1, Williams 1, Cooper 1); Notre Dame 4 (Turner 3, Reimer 1). Steals: Duke 4 (Greenwell 2); Notre Dame 5 (Westbeld 3). Total fouls (fouled out): Duke 16 (none); Notre Dame 10 (none). Technical fouls: None.

Officials: Dee Kantner, Denise Brooks, Joe Cunningham. Records: Duke 21-10, Notre Dame 30-2. A—7,108.

Notre Dame's Lindsay Allen (15) is tripod up by Duke's Azura Stevens (11) during ND's 55-49 victory Saturday in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/CHUCK BURTON)

WHO: No. 2 Notre Dame (30-2) vs. No. 7 Florida State (29-3)

WHAT: 38th Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championship game.

WHERE: Greensboro Coliseum (13,000), Greensboro, N.C.

WHEN: Sunday at 1 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ESPN and ESPN3.com with WatchESPN app.

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

THE LAST TIME: Notre Dame and Florida State opened the ACC regular season against each other on Jan. 2 in the Purcell Pavilion, and the Seminoles led for nearly 26 minutes before the Irish took command late for a 74-68 victory. The Irish, who came into the game No. 4 in the nation while Florida State was unranked, rallied from a 12-point deficit (20-8) with 7:41 remaining in the first half. Lindsay Allen hit a midcourt buzzer-beater to bring Notre Dame within one, 29-28, at the break. Madison Cable’s layup with 12:46 gave the Irish a 46-45 lead and they built it to seven (66-59) with 1:58 remaining on a three-point play by Jewell Loyd. The Irish shot nearly 62 percent in the second half to finish at 51.9 for the game, but the Seminoles won the battle of the boards 38-30. Loyd had 20 points and six rebounds, Allen added 18 points with eight assists and Brianna Turner had 14 points, five rebounds and five blocked shots. Taya Reimer added nine points and six rebounds for the Irish, who are 3-0 against Florida State. Shakayla Thomas had 18 points and Leticia Romero added 15 – both off the bench – and starting guard Morgan Jones had 14 points. “I think Florida State is a great team – I don’t know why they are not ranked,” a prophetic Irish coach Muffet McGraw said afterward. “They've really proven – I thought today especially -- that they are a very, very good basketball team and they're just going to keep getting better.”