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Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd named espnW National Player of the Year

Jewell-Loyd.jpg

For nearly four decades, the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team has been built around two key tenets consistency and excellence. While the Fighting Irish have reaped the rewards of team success from those cornerstones, they also are garnering individual honors that mirror those goals.

Junior guardJewell Loyd(Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) is the current personification of Notre Dame's consistency and excellence, and her dedication was rewarded Friday when she was chosen as the 2014-15 espnW National Player of the Year by that outlet's panel of women's college basketball experts.

Loyd is the first Fighting Irish player to earn a national player-of-the-year award (not limited to a position or class year) sinceRuth Rileyin 2001. That season, Riley was chosen as the Associated Press National Player of the Year, Naismith Trophy recipient andSports IllustratedNational Player of the Year.

"In-season performance trumped preseason hype," espnW columnistMichelle Smithwrote. "The junior shooting guard came up big in the biggest games and led the Irish to another ACC title in one of the most competitive conferences in the country."

"I'm really at a loss for words," Loyd said. "I'm grateful to the espnW panel that chose me for this award, my teammates and coaches, who do all they can to push me and challenge me every day, and my family and friends, who are the rock and the foundation that give me the strength and the support to help me reach my goals."

"What a fitting and deserved award for an outstanding player and an even better person," saidMuffet McGraw, Notre Dame's Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women's Basketball Coach. "We've said since day one that we thought she was the best player in the country and she has certainly proven throughout the course of the entire season. She's done anything and everything we've asked of her, she makes everyone around her better, and she's a leader on and off the court. We couldn't be happier or prouder for Jewell, and we know there's still more to come from her."

Loyd is one of the leading candidates for every major national player-of-the-year honor, including the Naismith Trophy, Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award and Dawn Staley Award, and she also was a unanimous choice as the espnW Midseason Player of the Year.

Loyd previously was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and was a first-team all-ACC selection by both the Blue Ribbon Panel and conference coaches while earning All-ACC Defensive Team plaudits from the latter group.

This season, Loyd was a four-time ACC Player of the Week, tyingJacqueline Batteast's2004-05 program record for conference player-of-the-week selections in one year (Batteast did so while playing in BIG EAST), while being the first ACC player to pull off that feat since 2011-12, when Maryland's Alyssa Thomas was a four-time honoree.

Loyd has started all 33 games this season, averaging career highs of 20.5 points and 3.1 assists per game, plus 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game with two double-doubles. She also leads the ACC with 18 20-point games this season (tied for second-most in school history), while her school-record four 30-point games also set the ACC standard.

A consensus preseason first-team All-America pick, Loyd ranks among the top 15 in the ACC in four statistical categories scoring (1st - also 21st in nation), free-throw percentage (6th - career-best .825), assist/turnover ratio (11th - career-high 1.23) and assists (13th). In conference play, she finished fourth in the ACC in scoring (19.0 ppg.) and free-throw percentage (.829), as well as 10th in assist/turnover ratio (1.16), 11th in assists (3.1 apg.) and 15th in steals (1.6 spg.).

Loyd, who ranks fourth on Notre Dame's single-season scoring list with 676 points and has scored in double figures in 75 of her last 76 games (32 of 33 this season), has been at her best when the stakes have been highest, averaging 24.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 11 games against Top 25 teams this season. In those 11 contests, she has scored at least 20 points nine times, including three 30-point outings career-high and school record-tying 41 points at No. 25 DePaul on Dec. 10, 34 points vs. No. 5/6 Tennessee on Jan. 19 at Purcell Pavilion, and 31 points against No. 3 Connecticut on Dec. 6, also at Purcell Pavilion.

On Sunday, Loyd became the second Notre Dame player in program history to earn two conference tournament MVP awards, joiningKrissi Daviswho received the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League Tournament MVP honors in 1989 and 1991. Loyd averaged 18.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in last weekend's three-game run to the ACC tournament title, highlighted by a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds in the semifinal win over No. 16 Duke on March 7, and a game-best 18 points and seven rebounds in Sunday's victory over No. 7/6 Florida State in the ACC championship game.

By winning the ACC Championship, Notre Dame (31-2, 15-1 ACC) has earned the conference's automatic berth into the 2015 NCAA Championship, securing the program's 20th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and 22nd in program history. The Fighting Irish will learn their first-round opponent, as well as the date, time and site of that game, when the 64-team field for this year's NCAA Championship is announced at 7 p.m. (ET) March 16 live on ESPN.

The top 16 seeded teams in the NCAA tournament will play host to first- and second-round games March 20-23. At this stage, Notre Dame likely will be selected as a host site for those early-round games, and NCAA tournament tickets currently are on sale only to Fighting Irish women's basketball season ticket holders through Notre Dame's Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office (call 574-631-7356 or visit the ticket windows at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET). Should Notre Dame officially be chosen as a host site when the bracket is released on March 16, NCAA tournament tickets would go on sale to the general public beginning at 8:30 a.m. (ET) March 17.

For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMastersor@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page atUND.com.

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