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Jewell Loyd: Fighting Irish Trying to Clear Their Biggest Hurdle

Jewell Loyd left Notre Dame following her junior season on the wrong side of history: Her Fighting Irish lost to Connecticut in the NCAA tournament in each of her three years, including twice in the national championship game.

Now Loyd, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft, is a member of the next potential WNBA dynasty in the up-and-coming Storm. As she wraps up her first pro season in Turkey, Loyd discusses this year’s Irish and that one hurdle she could never clear.

NCAA Tourney Blogs: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (UConn) | Kayla Alexander (Syracuse)

By Jewell Loyd, as told to WNBA.com

The time difference in Turkey is killing me right now as I try to follow my Fighting Irish in the NCAA tournament. But pretty much everyone I talked to when I was at school, I still text. And of course I always check the ESPN app to get an update on what they’re doing.

What I see is completely different from the teams I played on during my years at Notre Dame. My freshman year, we relied on Skylar Diggins to do a lot of the scoring. My sophomore year, it was a little bit of Natalie Achonwa, then K-Mac (Kayla McBride), then me. Last year, it was predominantly me scoring and, often, everyone else watching.

This year, everyone’s scoring. There are some games when five or six people are in double figures. Even the freshmen are coming in and doing their thing. Everyone’s ready and taking ownership and really embracing their roles. That’s really important, especially in the tournament because if you rely too much on one person, things can get stagnant and it messes up the flow of the game.

Jewell Loyd

Getting back to the Final Four year after year isn’t as easy as everyone says it is. To get every single person, even the bench players, to buy into the system and buy into the sacrifices you need to make — that’s tough. The last six games of the season, you have one bad game or mess up on one possession, that could be the game. We’ve seen that on the men’s side with those crazy endings.

But as well as Notre Dame is playing, they have some big hurdles to clear. The biggest one is a hurdle I never cleared during my three years: UConn. That team is trained like professionals. They leave their egos and concerns and off-the-court problems off the court, so when they come on the court, it’s all about business. It’s a culture they’ve built since even before my Storm teammate, Sue Bird, was there. They’ve done it since the moment they won their first national championship.

Now a lot of teams get scared of UConn.

Even though they eliminated us in the tournament the last three years, I’ve always had a lot of respect for UConn. Every single time we played them — even when they beat us — I always learned something. Coach Auriemma always had something up his sleeve. He changed up his defense so much that it made me understand the game better. I had to. If I wanted to score, if I wanted to help my team out, I had to really watch film and break down how to beat a box-and-one, how to beat a triangle-and-two, how to beat a two-deep zone.

It’s made me a better pro, actually. I had to become a student of the game early: freshman year, watching hours of film by myself trying to figure out how Kobe broke loose, how Diana Taurasi did this. That’s something most freshmen don’t do, but I knew I had to get ready for UConn.