Allen playing right role for Irish

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jewell Loyd had a simple message to deliver when she texted assistant coach Niele Ivey last year after a pickup game with some of her Fighting Irish teammates.

You did your job really well with this one.

Loyd, who knows a thing or two about making an immediate impression as a freshman, was talking about the job Ivey and the rest of the coaches did in recruiting freshman Lindsay Allen. Even as the rest of the women's basketball world wondered what the Fighting Irish would look like without point guard Skylar Diggins, Loyd and the returning players were getting excited about what games would look like with the ball in Allen's hands.

"Her quickness, her change of speed, her passing, for sure," Loyd said. "You just liked her swagger on the court."

Much of the focus on Notre Dame this weekend involves Taya Reimer, the freshman who presumably will start in place of injured All-American post Natalie Achonwa. But there is also Allen, even if it grows easier by the day to forget she is still that young after 36 starts without a loss to begin her career.

Make that 39 wins in a row if you count a summer exhibition tour of Europe. It was on that trip through England and Spain the team began to move forward from the disappointment of a Final Four loss and the conclusion of the Diggins era.

"We were trying to find our identity," Ivey said. "Jewell was hurt; there were a lot of things that were going on with us over there. [Allen] went on the court and she just calmed us down. Coach [Muffet] McGraw and I just looked at each other and smiled. We had that calming feeling that 'We're going to be OK.'"

Unlike Loyd a season earlier, Allen isn't going to win any votes as national freshman of the year averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 assists in 26.5 minutes per game. She isn't the sole playmaker on the team, not with Kayla McBride taking on even more duties as a distributor and Achonwa running much of the offense in the high post before her injury. Allen isn't her predecessor; she is steady, relentlessly, unfussy, steady, whether on a slippery court in London or a packed ACC arena. Which is all the Fighting Irish are asking for now.

One turnover in 29 minutes at Penn State a month into the regular season. Two turnovers in 28 minutes at Maryland.

Five assists, 3 steals and 9 points against North Carolina and its hyped freshman class.

Four assists and two turnovers against Duke in the ACC championship game.

Three assists and one turnover in 34 minutes against Baylor in a regional final.

Those aren't big numbers, but they are big contributions in big games.

"I think she realized Coach McGraw wasn't expecting her to be Sky, and she found that out early in the summer when we did workouts," Ivey said. "She has a great work ethic, always asking questions, watching a lot of film and breaking down our offense in individual workouts. And then just her personality -- she's really smart, and she's the type of kid who doesn't let a lot of things rattle her. She can take a lot of criticism."

It still isn't an easy role to fill. Allen had the veterans' support from the outset, but playing point guard on a team with three seniors coming off three successive trips to the Final Four, not to mention a rising star like Loyd, is a bit like asking a sergeant to take charge of a room full of four-star generals. No matter how supportive they are, it's tricky to order them around.

"Over the course of the year, I've gotten more comfortable," Allen said. "In the beginning, I wasn't really sure when I could say things. We have great senior leadership here, so I wasn't really sure when I could say things. But now, I'm more comfortable pointing out a mismatch somewhere or when to run something for K-Mac because she's hot from [the 3-point line] or something like that."

Allen said the European excursion feels as if it was two years ago. A college season can do that to a freshman. Then again, maybe time just ticks differently in her world.

She has been older than her years from the beginning.

"The biggest thing with Lindsay, from the Europe trip to now, is her composure," Achonwa said. "She doesn't fluctuate; she doesn't get too high, she doesn't get too low. Her even demeanor is the biggest thing. I think that's why she keeps our team so calm."