Practice makes pretty play for Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – An hour before tipoff for Sunday’s women’s basketball regional championship game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the entire Baylor team was on the floor warming up at its first-half basket.

But the first player on the court? Who else but Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd. Notre Dame’s player-of-the-year candidate is always working on something involving her game, especially shooting. When the team is home, Loyd is usually the first one on the floor and one of the last ones to leave.

And shortly after her arrival, Loyd was joined by her running mate at guard, sophomore point Lindsay Allen, whose 24-point first half Friday night allowed Loyd to get her game together for the second half. The junior scored 17 points after intermission and Allen scored a career-high 28 with four assists as Notre Dame pulled away from Stanford, 81-60.

Among the areas to watch in the clash with Baylor was the point guard matchup between Allen and Baylor's Niya Johnson.

“Obviously I’m biased because this is my point guard here,” Loyd said Saturday when talking about the point-guard matchup.

Baylor’s Niya Johnson had 16 assists and no turnovers in the Bears’ 81-66 dispatching of Iowa.

There’s a reason why Loyd is in the running for several player of the year honors and Allen is one of the finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award for the nation’s best point guards. They know where each other are on the floor at all times, and that only comes from practice.

Perhaps the prettiest play of Friday evening’s Irish semifinal win over the Cardinal came in the second half with Notre Dame rolling along. With 5:10 remaining and the Irish up 73-54, Madison Cable came up with a steal and got the ball to Allen, who quickly looked up the court for a streaking Loyd.

The ball arrived a little behind Loyd, who instinctively touched it back to a streaking Taya Reimer, who went in for the layup and a 75-54 lead.

Amazing stats

Before the NCAA tournament began, McGraw mentioned that one statistic she would be watching was the assist-to-turnover ratio, which is a good indication of a point guard’s effectiveness on the floor. Allen came into the game with a 2.11 assist-to-turnover ratio. In addition to averaging 10.4 points a game, Allen is averaging a team-high 5.2 assists per game. Last year in six NCAA tournament games as a freshman, Allen’s a/to ratio was 5.60. Johnson, who leads the nation in assists per game at 8.9, has an a/to ratio of 18.00 in three games (36 assists to just two turnovers).

McGraw, of course, was a point guard when she played at Saint Joseph’s College in the 1970s. So what was her assist-to-turnover ratio?

“We didn’t keep stats back then,” McGraw said. “I think we just had the abacus that we were keeping score on at that point.”

Alone again, naturally

The Irish were the last Atlantic Coast Conference team standing Sunday after South Carolina knocked out Florida State, 80-74, to win the Greensboro (N.C.) Regional earlier in the day. The Gamecocks (34-2) advance to their first Women’s Final Four to play the Oklahoma City Regional winner.

Florida State, which finished second to Notre Dame in the regular season and then lost the ACC Tournament title March 8 to the Irish, 71-58, in the same Greensboro Coliseum, concluded their season 32-5. The Seminoles’ last three setbacks all came in North Carolina – 71-63 Feb. 12 at North Carolina, the ACC title-game loss to Notre Dame and Sunday’s regional championship loss to South Carolina.

When the bracket was revealed on Monday, March 16, the ACC received eight berths into the 64-team field. Notre Dame was the No. 1 seed and Miami No. 11 in the Oklahoma City Regional, while Louisville was No. 3 in the Albany (N.Y.) Regional and Duke was No. 4 and Pittsburgh No. 10 in the Spokane (Wash.) Regional.

Ironically, South Carolina, the No. 1 seed at Greensboro, opened its tournament run at home with an 81-48 victory over Savannah State and then eliminated three straight ACC teams to earn its Final Four berth – No. 8 seed Syracuse, 97-68, in the second round at Columbia and then No. 4 North Carolina, 67-65, in the semifinals and No. 2 Florida State in the championship game in Greensboro.

The ACC was 15-7 heading into Sunday: Notre Dame 3-0; Florida State 3-1; North Carolina, Louisville and Duke 2-1; and Miami, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all 1-1.

The SEC had two teams remaining – South Carolina and No. 2 Spokane seed Tennessee, which knocked out Gonzaga 73-69 Saturday night. Five conferences have one rep each remaining: ACC (Notre Dame), American Athletic Conference (Connecticut), Atlantic 10 (Dayton), Big 12 (Baylor) and Big Ten (Maryland).

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd sits courtside before Notre Dame's regional final against Baylor in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 29, 2015, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)