NASHVILLE — When the Notre Dame women’s basketball team faces Connecticut on Tuesday night in the first national championship game between undefeated opponents, a freshman will be making many of the important choices on the court for the Fighting Irish.
Coach Muffet McGraw is just fine with that, as are Lindsay Allen’s teammates after spending a season watching the 2013 All-Met Player of the Year from St. John’s handle the responsibilities and distractions that come not only with the position but also in replacing Skylar Diggins, the most decorated player in program history.
It’s nothing McGraw had not seen while recruiting Allen, who led the Cadets to four consecutive appearances in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game, including winning the title last season to finish 33-1.
“I’m really, really tough on point guards,” McGraw said. “I always have a really short list because there’s a lot of people that I don’t want to coach. She was someone who caught my eye initially because of her intelligence, her decision-making on the floor. She did not turn the ball over. That was probably the first thing I recognized.”
Fourth-seeded Maryland saw that attention to ball security up close during an 87-61 loss in Sunday’s national semifinals. Allen recorded five assists without a turnover in 33 minutes and added nine points to help send Notre Dame to the championship game for the third time in four years.
Over five games in the NCAA tournament, Allen has 23 assists against just four turnovers. That 5.8-to-1 ratio is nearly three times as efficient as her regular season total and underscores why the ball remains in her hands when the stakes are at their highest.
Allen has not committed more than three turnovers in a game in nearly two months and has 27 games with zero to two turnovers. Her 116 assists are a school record for a freshman, and she became the second freshman in 20 years in South Bend to reach 100 assists. She’s also started a freshman-record 37 games.
“I’m not surprised at all,” St. John’s girls’ basketball coach Jonathan Scribner said of Allen’s seamless transition from high school to college. “Mainly it’s because of her approach and her work ethic. I never ever in four years saw her make the same mistake twice. She absorbs everything.”
Allen was able to learn from Diggins several times during the season when the third overall pick in last year’s WNBA draft stopped by practice to work out with the team. Diggins directed the Fighting Irish to 130 wins, three consecutive berths in the Final Four and two appearances in the national championship game.
Diggins paid special mind to her successor during those practice visits, making sure to teach her about the nuances of the position as well as running her ragged in an effort to acclimate Allen to the rigors of moving up in class and competition.
“You know, coming in the summer, I wasn’t really worried about being the next Skylar Diggins or anything like that,” Allen said. “I was focused on playing my game. The upperclassmen obviously knew that I am not Skylar Diggins. They knew they had to step up a big more. There is no question about how we are real balanced this year.”
For starters, there’s Kayla McBride, a first-team all-American who finished runner-up to the Huskies’ Breanna Stewart for national player of the year. McBride scored 19 of her game-high 28 points in the first half against Maryland and is averaging 17.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
Then Allen often has sophomore guard Jewell Loyd by her side in the back court or running with her on the fast break. Loyd combined to score 50 points during the Lincoln Region, where she was named most outstanding player. She leads Notre Dame in scoring at 18.7 points per game and averages 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 steals.
“Somebody asked me recently how come we have so many assists, and I said because every time you pass the ball, you’re passing to a pretty good player,” Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said. “And I wish I could have been Lindsay Allen this year and just come down the floor and make a decision, should I pass to Kayla McBride, or should I pass to Jewell Loyd? I think players that understand their roles and players that play their roles really, really well are a huge key to having a championship team.”
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