Loyd at center of Notre Dame-DePaul rivalry

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND – For all the similarities and familiarities the Notre Dame and DePaul women’s basketball programs have in a long and close rivalry, Sunday’s second-round NCAA women’s basketball tournament game at 9 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion is going to be very different.

For only the second time in their 41-game rivalry, either Muffet McGraw’s second-ranked 32-2 Irish, winners of 18 straight games, or Doug Bruno’s unfairly unranked Blue Demons, who have won 14 of their last 15 to get to 27-7, will see their season end. DePaul ended Notre Dame’s 1989 season with a 77-69 victory in the Women’s NIT at Amarillo, Texas.

At least there was a tomorrow for both following Notre Dame’s 94-93 overtime walk-on-the-wild-side, high-wire victory, Dec. 10 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago. But not this time. One team’s collective ego and basketballs will be deflated until next October.

“DePaul has been a big rival of ours as long as I’ve been here,” said McGraw, who first coached against Bruno in the 1987-88 season. “This game always brings some heat and a very competitive atmosphere.

"I think we are definitely looking forward to the matchup and I think they are, too. I think when the NCAA put us together they were hoping we’d have a game similar to what we had in Chicago. I think it’s going to be a great game.”

That encounter in Chicago last December had more plot changes than a soap opera before Notre Dame rallied from an eight-point deficit late in regulation to force overtime and then won it thanks to Jewell Loyd’s career-high and school-record-tying 41 points. The Blue Demons could have won it in regulation if senior guard Brittany Hrynko had made either one of two free throws with 3.2 ticks left on the clock.

“If purgatory really exists I think I got five years worked off for that game,” Bruno joked. “I really remember coaching my team the day after. We were in the next day and didn’t talk about free throws (Hrynko made just 5 of 16 and combined DePaul made just 12 of 29). We talked about the other aspects of the game that got us in that position. If we rebound and defend, it doesn’t come down to free throws.”

That’s how DePaul, the No. 9 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, won Friday in its opening NCAA tournament game, rallying from 15 down early in the second half to beat a tired Minnesota team, 79-72. Notre Dame, the No. 1 region seed, later took care of Montana, 77-43, in its first game in 12 days.

Against the gasping Gophers, DePaul forced 28 turnovers (while making only 11) and had 14 steals.

Both Notre Dame and DePaul have come a long way from their earlier close encounter, and their composition is different because of injuries to key personnel.

Back on Dec. 10, Notre Dame did not have freshman forward Brianna Turner, whose right shoulder was still mending after she injured it early in Notre Dame’s 92-72 victory over Maryland. Back on Dec. 10, DePaul did have guard Megan Rogowski, who tallied 16 points against the Irish but then tore her ACL against Villanova on Jan. 2 and was lost for the season.

“I think their inside force is much stronger than it was,” Bruno noted. “Turner and (Taya) Reimer are playing so much better down there. They have Jewell, (Lindsay) Allen is playing a lot better, and I’ve always been a (Madison) Cable fan. At any other program in the country, Cable would be a much more heavily featured player.

"(Michaela) Mabrey is also good. Everywhere you turn there is someone you have to guard.”

The key, of course, for DePaul is trying to stop Loyd, who calls Bruno “Uncle Doug,” because of their closeness as Chicagoland neighbors and his recruiting efforts of her. The two even have each other on speed dial on their cell phones.

Loyd scored those 41 points on 12-of-28 shooting from the floor, 15-of-18 from the foul line, and also added 12 rebounds. It was one of three double-doubles for the Irish (Reimer had 15 points and 11 boards, while Cable, in a rare start, had 20 and 10, respectively).

“Jewell Loyd certainly plays like this is a rivalry game,” Bruno said. “The rest of them might not think it is, but Jewell does. I mean just look at what Jewell has done against us. She’s had some of her best games against us.”

McGraw, meanwhile, knows the full-court pressure and 40 minutes of intensity the Blue Demons will bring. It’s why Bruno’s team has four players scoring in double figures, with Hrynko (19.4 points per game), 6-2 junior guard-forward Megan Podkowa (14.0 ppg), 5-5 junior Chanise Jenkins (12.4) and 5-7 sophomore Jessica January (11.6), three players with more than 100 assists (Hrynko has 182, Jenkins 156 and January 125), and the nation’s second-best turnover margin (just under +11 a game).

“There aren’t very many teams that play the full-court press like DePaul does,” McGraw said. “They love that up-tempo. They want you to turn it over. We really don’t have anyone like that in the ACC.

"It’s a very different style of play from what we had (Friday from Montana), so it will be hard to change over in one day. When you look at the score in the 90s (the last time the teams met), you definitely need to play a little better defense. Trying to slow them down a little bit will be a big challenge because we both want to run.”

For one of them, the season run ends shortly before midnight.

Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd (32) has Stanford's attention. Loyd and the Irish face the Cardinal Friday night in the NCAA women's hoops Sweet 16. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)

WHAT: Second-round game of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament’s Oklahoma City Regional.

WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (32-2) vs. No. 9 seed DePaul (27-7).

WHEN: Sunday at 9 p.m.

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (8,887), South Bend.

TV: ESPN, ESPN3.com with WatchESPN app

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

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

LIVE STATS: UND.com.

RANKINGS: Notre Dame is No. 2 in both the Associated Press media and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association/USA Today rankings; DePaul is receiving votes in each poll.

AT STAKE: Semifinal berth vs. Stanford pod winner Friday, March 27 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

TICKETS: Available. 

ALL-TIME SERIES: Notre Dame leads 21-19 and has won last six meetings. Notre Dame is 11-6 in games played at Purcell Pavilion, including wins in the last four.