Reflecting on her team's 76-58 loss to Connecticut on Saturday, Muffet McGraw said what disappointed her most was not No. 5 Notre Dame's rebounding woes, defensive struggles or poor shooting.
What really displeased the Irish coach was the lack of toughness from her squad, as the Irish (8-1) first failed to hold on to a 10-point lead, then came up short in their effort to rally from a 20-point deficit.
The Irish shot just 31.4 percent from the field and made five of 18 3-pointers. Junior guard Jewell Loyd shot 37 percent from the field, down from her season average of 50 percent. She also turned the ball over a game-high seven times.
Despite those numbers, Loyd did collect a game-high 31 points, tying her career best, as well as four steals, also a career high. McGraw praised Loyd's performance Saturday.
"I think Jewell has [that toughness]," McGraw said. "I thought Jewell was the best player on the floor, but we didn't give her any help at all, and I think we're capable of more."
Loyd had 17 of her points come in the first half on 11 shots, but ran into trouble in the second stanza, throwing up 16 shots, half of the team's field goal attempts in the half, and connecting on just five of them.
Both Loyd and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen faced double and even triple teams throughout the game, as the Huskies (6-1) tried to shut down Notre Dame's leaders in scoring and assists, respectively.
"[The double teams] affected us a little bit," Allen said. "We worked on it a bit in practice ... but it definitely slowed us down, which was the point."
Although those double teams left players open, the Irish were unable to capitalize. The problem, McGraw said, was that younger team members looked to Loyd to carry them down the stretch.
"It was us," McGraw said when asked about Connecticut's defense. "We looked like a deer in headlights. We made some shots early, and when things are going good, I think that's the kind of thing a young team, they're going to roll along with it. But when things [went] bad, Jewell was the only one who really wanted the ball."
Another issue was Notre Dame's weakness on the boards, where the Irish were out-rebounded 52-34, with the absence of freshman forward Brianna Turner. Turner is out with a right shoulder injury, robbing the Irish of their best post player.
"The game was lost on the boards," McGraw said. "We just went soft. It was very disappointing."
In addition to rebounding and defense, McGraw said her front court simply did not perform like they should have when presented with shot opportunities.
"They sagged [on defense]. They sagged, daring us to shoot the jumper," McGraw said. "And that's something we worked on in practice, but we didn't look like we did. We froze a lot on offense. We stopped moving, we stopped screening, we pretty much stopped doing everything."
The key to fixing these problems is more experience and players stepping up in the locker room, McGraw said.
McGraw did not offer any suggestions of which player that might be but did say she thought the loss could provide the team with valuable experience down the road.
"I think, in the long run, this could be good for us," she said. "We can learn a lot from it."
The Irish have a short turnaround to learn these lessons, as they take on No. 25 DePaul on Wednesday in Chicago. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m.