ND's Lindsay Allen giving defenses something else to worry about

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

At times, especially early in the Elite Eight win Sunday over Baylor, it looked almost painful.

Jewell Loyd, the gem of the Notre Dame women’s basketball team, seemed like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. All season, she had been the driving force (literally) that had gotten the Irish through so many tough spots.

In this, the biggest game thus far, Loyd couldn’t buy a basket. The harder she tried, the worse it got.

Loyd took eight of Notre Dame’s first 15 shots and made just two. The Irish trailed by as many as nine.

“Because of her reputation and her talent, I think (Loyd) felt responsible for getting us back to the Final Four,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “You look back to the (regular season) DePaul game, she had 41 (points); Tennessee (34); Connecticut (31). It seemed as though she had to carry the weight.

“Eventually, the rest of the team caught up. (Loyd) recognized the rest of the team had caught up and started distributing more. (Against Baylor), she was feeling like, ‘This is my job.’

“It was great that she was able to continue to get some assists and watch other people score. It was good for all of us. She wants to be the best player on the floor. She’s at a really good place right now.”

“I have the best teammates in the world,” Loyd said. “(When the struggles happened) they said, ‘We’ve got ya.’ I said, ‘Hey, it’s not my night. I’ll do the little things right and you guys keep doing what you’re doing.’

“I’m not worried about my shot. It’s just ‘effort’ plays; defense; just being a communicator. I’ll embrace that.”

The burden of responsibility Loyd has carried into the NCAA Tournament has manifested itself with some very un-Jewell-like performances. Combine the DePaul (3-of-15) and Baylor (5-of-18) games and Loyd is shooting a chilly 24 percent, well below the 45 percent clip she carries (along with a 19.9 scoring average) for the season.

A testament to the solid nature of the Irish program was that Notre Dame didn’t crumble when Loyd’s numbers went down the tubes.

Somebody else just stepped up.

In addition to a hot streak by long range artist Michaela Mabrey (12 of 19, 63 percent, in the last three games), 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (averaging 10.8 points, 5.3 assists) has flipped the switch from starter to finisher; from distributor to scorer.

Allen scored 24 of her career-high 28 points in the first half in the win over Stanford, then followed that up with 23 points and seven assists against Baylor.

However, the sudden surge of power didn’t exactly catch McGraw off guard.

“It’s a mindset that’s difficult for a pass-first point guard, which Lindsay is,” McGraw said. “What happened in (last weekend’s games), we’d come off the ball screen in transition a lot. And, she was open. We thought she might be, so we worked on that with her and Jewell (in practice). She just happened to have the ball in her hands more than Jewell.

“She came down, she was open, she made a few, so she kept shooting. If she had missed a couple, she would have been looking for the roller (to the basket) or something else.

“She’s smart enough to know, she takes what (the defense) gives her, she feels good, and keeps on going.”

“If I’m not open, I pass it,” Allen said with a shrug. “If I’m open, I shoot it. I have really good teammates who know how to cut and know how to score. That’s what it comes down to.

“In practice all week, we worked on taking those jump shots. We were preparing for that.”

Yeah, but … That first half of the Stanford game, when everything she seemed to throw in the general direction of the basket went in, had to be special.

Now that’s a zone.

“It felt pretty good,” Allen said, flashing a wide smile. “Everyone’s moving really well. The defense was paying attention to our other scorers. I just had the open spots to take my shots.”

“(Allen) understands the game really well,” Loyd said. “(The Stanford and Baylor) defenses were letting her do whatever she wanted, which was awesome. She’s a big-time player. She understands ‘I’ve got an open shot, I’ve gotta knock that down.’ Coach has been trying to get her to do that for a few years now. She’s starting to realize, ‘Hey, I’ve got a green light.’

“She’s really focused. It’s great to see her grow.”

And with her, the Irish continue to evolve – and improve.

Just in time.

Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen has heated up at the right time to help the Irish return to the Final Four. (AP Photo/SUE OGROCKI)