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ND Women’s Basketball

Jacobsen: There are concerns, but not every win will be a blowout (Jan. 28)

| Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It was ugly. It was messy. It was, at times, maddening for Irish fans. But it was a win.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw surely did not write up a game plan that included No. 2 Notre Dame (19-0, 6-0 ACC) giving up a 22-point lead to No. 6 Maryland (16-3, 4-2), and there are plenty of lessons to be taken from the 87-83 victory on the Terrapins’ home court. But there’s also something to be said for a team that can hold on for the win even after it appears to have come apart at the seams.

There were certainly times when the Irish looked flustered on Monday night. It would be unfair to suggest that the still-undefeated Irish had not been challenged so far this season — both Oregon State and No. 10 Tennessee led Notre Dame at halftime — but this was the first time the squad had to put themselves back together after faltering. The poise that usually marks Notre Dame’s play was missing; during the 39-19 run that began in the final minutes of the first half, Maryland players found their way around defenders to get in position for easy shots. The Terps were finally able to win some of the loose balls that had been wrestled away by the Irish. After making 10 of their first 15 shots, the Irish started to miss, throwing up shots without hope of grabbing the rebound.

But instead of ending a 41-game regular-season unbeaten streak with a disastrous collapse, the Irish held it together in the game’s final minutes, and sophomore guard Jewell Loyd and senior guard Kayla McBride sank Notre Dame’s final two shots to give the Irish the win. The new-wave stat gurus of the sports world might dispute the existence of clutch performers, but that’s certainly what McBride and Loyd looked like on Monday, and that is certainly a trait the Irish would like to see again come tournament time.

Of course, Loyd’s exploits were not confined to the final minute of play Monday night. The sophomore scored a career-high 31 points in 38 minutes of play, hitting 60 percent of her shots from the field. And it was not just open jumpers and easy layups she was sinking: she tossed in a shot one-handed while a defender grabbed at her other arm. She took (and made) several shots after launching herself into the air. During the telecast, analyst and WNBA star Kara Lawson described Loyd as All-American worthy and said her moves are reminiscent of NBA players, and during a short in-game interview with Skylar Diggins the recent graduate described her former teammate and protégé as “fearless.”

So, yes, there are things for Irish fans to worry about. For the second time in a week, foul trouble kept Notre Dame starters close to the bench — senior forward Natalie Achonwa played just 21 minutes after being called for two fouls in the first two minutes of play. And Notre Dame is not blowing the doors off of talented competition. But as they’ve already proved, blowouts are not the only way to win.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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