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ND Women’s Basketball

On another level

| Thursday, March 19, 2015

“Make them an offer they can’t refuse.”

That’s what Jewell Loyd has listed in the bio section of her Twitter profile, and to many across the country, that’s exactly what the Irish junior guard has done this year.

Junior guard Jewell Loyd stares down a defender during Notre Dame's win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 23.Kat Robinson | The Observer

Junior guard Jewell Loyd stares down a defender during Notre Dame’s win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 23.

She’s made them an offer they couldn’t refuse to be considered the nation’s best player.

Case in point: Notre Dame played one of its tightest contests all season Dec. 10 against then-No. 25 DePaul in Chicago. Coming off two straight games against Maryland and Connecticut — who both earned No. 1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA tournament — the Irish struggled from the field and on defense and trailed for much of the game, seeming doomed to fall in a trap to the Blue Demons.

Loyd’s response? Put up a career-high and program-record-tying 41 points. Hit the game-tying and then game-winning free throws with 5.3 seconds left in overtime to lead the Irish to a comeback, 94-93 win.

“She just never quit,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said of Loyd after the game. “We gave her less than a minute’s rest, and she was still able to find it in the tank to finish the game.”

That’s the offer people haven’t been able to refuse so far this season, at least as far as accolades go. With the end of the regular season has come a flood of awards and honors for Loyd.

espnW National Player of the Year? Check.

ACC Player of the Year? Check, from both the conference’s coaches and its Blue Ribbon Panel of media members.

ACC tournament Most Valuable Player? Check.

Finalist for the Naismith and Wooden Awards for the country’s best player? Check and check.

But it’s not like any of this comes as a surprise to McGraw, who has been calling Loyd the best player in the country since the start of the season.

“She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and then some,” McGraw said. “She can do so many different things. She’ll play the point; she’ll play the four; she’ll do anything. She’ll guard the other team’s best player. I don’t think there are a lot of great players in the country who are also their best defensive player.”

If the saying numbers don’t lie is true, then Loyd has built herself a good case to claim those final two awards — the most prestigious in college basketball — in early April.

She averages 20.5 points per game this season, her highest total in her three years at Notre Dame and a number that is good for first in the ACC and 21st in the NCAA.

The guard also pulls down 5.4 boards per game, trailing only freshman forward Brianna Turner and sophomore forward Taya Reimer in that category among the Irish.

But when the bright lights against top competition flicker on, Loyd’s numbers start to heat up.

The Irish have taken on ranked opponents 11 times this year, and in those matchups, Loyd has averaged 24.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

But she has not always had the ferocious attitude she displayed against DePaul in December.

“In her first two years she was really nice, and I was like, ‘Jewell, you can’t be that nice. You’re going to have enemies out there,’” Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey said. “Now, I feel like she’s come back this year, just intense and just mean, which is what we wanted her to be.”

Loyd has followed in the footsteps of two other tenacious and high-scoring Notre Dame guards, Skylar Diggins and Kayla McBride, and taken on their role this year after their departures from the Purcell Pavilion hardwood.

“This year, I feel like she’s now stepping into that role as a leader, taking complete autonomy of this being her team,” Ivey said. “I’ve seen so much maturity in her. She always had a great work ethic, but just the way that she’s been leading.”

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd makes a cut during Notre Dame's win over Louisville on Feb. 26.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd makes a cut during Notre Dame’s win over Louisville on Feb. 26.

Loyd said she naturally slipped into her new leadership role, a transition without much fanfare.

“I think it just kind of happened,” she said. “I didn’t ask for it; they didn’t give it to me. It kind of just happened. That’s what happens in basketball — you have unselfish players on this team, and it makes it a lot easier for that to happen.”

Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Allen said she has noticed how Loyd’s leadership has translated into her play on the court, especially when Notre Dame has needed her most.

“I think she’s really taken over games,” Allen said. “In games where we have struggled, like Georgia Tech or DePaul, things like that, she’s really taken over, being that leader on the court for us and just being more vocal.”

Loyd came to Notre Dame with an already sterling résumé, a McDonald’s All-American and member of USA Basketball’s Under-17 team, which won a gold medal at the 2010 FIBA U17 World Championships.

Even though she’s always been a gym rat, she has gained a better understanding for the game this year and developed into “an even more cerebral player,” Ivey said.

“Before, I feel like she just played, and people just fed off her energy,” she said. “But now, the game’s slowing down; she’s seeing things, she’s reading things, letting me know what she sees, just playing with so much confidence.”

But take another look at Loyd’s profile on Twitter — the one in which she lists that infamous quote from The Godfather — and you’ll see the other side of the junior guard, the one on display in her profile photo.

She’s leaping in the air and passing the ball between her legs, with her hair flying behind her and a big grin on her face — “one of those kids that just doesn’t want to grow up,” Ivey said.

“On the court, she’s all ball,” Ivey said. “Off the court, she wants to play — besides her studying with school, she’s just a big kid. She likes playing a lot of video games, and she’s always playing with my son.”

That enthusiasm shows during Notre Dame games, whether Loyd is on the receiving end of a pass for her signature alley-oop or praising her teammates’ performances postgame.

“It’s fun because every day, someone is doing something great,” Loyd said. “You never know who’s going to go out for 20, who’s going to try to dunk — you don’t know. Everyone on this team is so exciting to watch, and I love it.”

And when it comes time to make a big play, a deep run in the tournament or any offer that awards voters won’t be able to refuse, Loyd said she knows exactly what to do.

“I don’t have to do anything different,” she said. “I just have to play the game that I know and play the game that I love.”

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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