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ND Women’s Basketball

Multiplayer attack fuels Irish offense

| Thursday, April 2, 2015

The No. 1 seed Irish have made the Final Four for the fifth straight year. But Notre Dame looks a little different this season.

This team is younger. It has improved perhaps more than any of the most recent five Notre Dame teams to make the Final Four, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said Wednesday during the Final Four coaches teleconference. And it is more balanced.

“We’ve had so many different people,” McGraw said. “I think that’s also another difference from years past. We relied on our All‑Americans in years past, and I feel like this year, everybody that’s in the game can contribute.”

Junior guard Jewell Loyd topped many box scores this season on her way to averaging 19.9 points per game and first-team All-America honors from the Associated Press (AP), United States Basketball Writers Association and John R. Wooden Award. But the Irish (35-2, 15-1 ACC) proved their depth over the course of the season — four players average in double-figure points per game.

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd drives past Baylor redshirt sophomore guard Alexis Prince in Notre Dame’s 77-68 win in the Elite Eight.Jodi Lo | The Observer

Irish junior guard Jewell Loyd drives past Baylor redshirt sophomore guard Alexis Prince in Notre Dame’s 77-68 win in the Elite Eight.

The NCAA tournament has been no exception.

Loyd scored a team-high 18 points in Notre Dame’s 77-43 first-round win over Montana. But then junior guard Michaela Mabrey led the way with sharp 3-point shooting in the second round against DePaul. Sophomore guard Lindsay Allen posted the most points for the Irish in their two most recent wins, over No. 4 seed Stanford in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Baylor in the Elite Eight.

Last season, Notre Dame wanted Allen to focus on having “a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio” as a first-year point guard, McGraw said. Her role has expanded this season as she was recognized Tuesday with honorable mention All-America honors from the AP.

“She’s looking to score more and doing more in transition, and she’s been really successful,” McGraw said. “I think it’s helped our offense tremendously.”

The Irish have seen their post players grow this season and contribute to the team’s depth as well. Freshman forwards Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld have been productive, Turner as a starter and Westbeld as one of Notre Dame’s primary bench players.

Turner received recognition Tuesday as an honorable mention All-American along with Allen.

“She always wants to know what she can do differently and how she can attack things differently,” McGraw said of Turner. “She watches a lot of film. I’m so pleased with her progress. She’s really overachieved for us this year, and we’re excited about her future.”

Notre Dame freshman forward Brianna Turner leaps to fire a contested shot over Wake Forest senior forward Dearica Hamby during a 92-63 Irish home victory over the Demon Deacons on Feb. 1.Emily McConville | The Observer

Notre Dame freshman forward Brianna Turner leaps to fire a contested shot over Wake Forest senior forward Dearica Hamby during a 92-63 Irish home victory over the Demon Deacons on Feb. 1.

Sophomore forward Taya Reimer has helped the freshmen forwards develop in addition to improving her own game, McGraw said.

“I think that consistency is one of the strengths that she’s had,” McGraw said. “I think she also brings a lot of physical play around the basket in terms of both offensively and defensively. I think she’s really smart. She’s kind of stepped up as a leader in the post as a sophomore, helping Kathryn and Brianna. So she’s taken on a little bit of a leadership and mentoring role.”

Senior guard Madison Cable has provided the Irish with scrappy minutes off the bench as part of an involved Notre Dame reserve corps. Four players other than the five regular starters have averaged double-figure minutes this year.

So far, it all has added up to a Final Four berth. Playing as a team has helped the Irish come back from some tough spots over the course of the season, McGraw said.

Notre Dame played from behind in the NCAA tournament against both DePaul and Baylor but came out as winners. The Irish also rebounded from their two regular-season losses to Connecticut and Miami.

“It’s been a great group to work with,” McGraw said. “They are just relentless, and they never quit. We’ve been down in a lot of games, and they just keep stepping up.”

Notre Dame tips off its Final Four matchup against No. 1 seed South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

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