Jewell Loyd leads Irish to ACC crown

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- When is two points more than two points? When it's a basket that sends a figurative bolt of electricity through a team and its fans. And that was exactly what Jewell Loyd's alley-oop did in the second half of the ACC tournament title game.

The Fighting Irish are champions of their new league, and they will go into the NCAA tournament undefeated at 32-0. They execute offensively, are patient even when things aren't clicking as well (which is rare, but happens), and are very dependable on defense.

But ... they are also just really darn fun to watch.

Especially their jumping-jack sophomore Loyd, who led Notre Dame to a 69-53 victory over Duke in the ACC final Sunday at Greensboro Coliseum.

Notre Dame was impressive throughout the ACC regular season and during this tournament. Loyd had 26 points, while senior backcourt mate Kayla McBride scored 25.

"I thought Jewell and Kayla were just unstoppable," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "The second half, Jewell had a stretch where she took over and did so many great things."

Including the aforementioned alley-oop, which came just more than 5 minutes into the second half. Loyd said former Irish point guard Skylar Diggins was "the best" about setting her up for those crowd-pleasers. But Sunday, freshman Lindsay Allen delivered an alley-oop pass to Loyd that Diggins would have been proud of.

That basket made it 42-34 Notre Dame, and was part of a 21-4 Irish run to take control of the game in the opening 8 minutes of the second half. The score was tied at 28 at halftime, but the Irish finished it off very strong.

"It's fun, and I think it's good for women's basketball," Loyd said of her highlight-reel basket, then added with a grin, "Skylar has the headband; that's her thing. And the alley-oop is my thing. It's something that I think motivates our team; it gets us hyped.

"Today, it was a good pass, and I thought, 'I have to do this.' You could tell the Notre Dame crowd just came alive then. We needed some positive energy, and I think it helped change the game."

She's right, but the thing about both Loyd -- who was named ACC tournament MVP -- and Notre Dame as a whole is that they don't just do spectacular plays well. They handle the gritty, less-showy basics with aplomb, too.

And the McBride-Loyd combo has been doing this at an exceptionally high level all season.

"You would be hard-pressed to find a better pair," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said of the Irish backcourt duo. "I think McBride's season was player-of-the-year material. She was very consistent in leading her team.

"I think that's what separates them. They're athletic, very smart. They perform every single night. Players of that caliber seem to get driven by their success."

Duke, the No. 2 seed behind Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, really didn't play that badly. Especially on the interior, where Haley Peters and Elizabeth Williams combined for 35 points and 22 rebounds. But this was a game where the Blue Devils being without two point guards -- injured Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones -- really hurt them. Duke had 20 turnovers, and leading scorer Tricia Liston -- who has had to take over a lot of point-guard responsibilities -- was 2-of-11 from the field for four points. Duke was 0-for-5 from behind the arc.

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