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Diggins leads Irish in title hunt

Kelsey Manning | Thursday, March 29, 2012

In the midst of racking up nominations for every major national player-of-the-year award, earning spots on three different All-America teams, recording her first career triple-double and claiming the title of Most Outstanding Player of the Raleigh Regional, Irish junior point guard Skylar Diggins remains focused on one thing – winning it all.

“We are not just here to participate,” she said. “We are not just happy to be here. We want to win it.”

This attitude has been evident in Diggins’ postseason performance, as she posted her first career triple-double in No. 4 Notre Dame’s 80-49 rout of No. 5 Maryland in the Raleigh regional final March 27.

Diggins finished the game with 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds along with five steals – she was the game’s top performer in all four categories. The feat marked the 13th triple-double in NCAA tournament history, and only the second in a regional final. Diggins also achieved the third triple-double in Notre Dame history, and the first ever in postseason play.

In the wake of the win over Maryland to advance the Irish to the Final Four for the second straight year, Irish coach Muffet McGraw recognized the profound mark Diggins has had on the Notre Dame program.

“This puts us in more elite company,” she said. “This is something that [Diggins] has brought to our program. I think we now have a place with all the elite programs in the country, and I couldn’t be prouder of that.”

Diggins has been showered with national honors, most recently earning a spot on the John Wooden All-American Team and the 10-player United States Basketball Writers Association All-American Team. These selections indicate the finalists for player-of-the-year awards from both organizations.

But despite all the individual attention, Diggins said her focus is on winning a championship, where it has remained since last year’s loss in the final.

“The loss against Texas A&M has been in our mind for a year now. [We were thinking] ‘When is a championship going to [come]? When is the tournament getting started?'” she said. “I think we tried to win a championship against Arkansas Pine-Bluff right on the tip [in the first game of the season.] It’s good for us to finally be back here, and get into the last hurrah with the team. And with this team, it is kind of bittersweet, because we are at the end of the season with this team. But that gives us more reason to play for.”

With that in mind, Diggins currently has her gaze set firmly on No. 3 Connecticut, who the Irish will face in the tournament semifinals in what will be the teams’ fourth matchup of the year. Brushing off any notion of the difficulty of beating a team three times in one year, Diggins said she and the team are using the same approach they have all year – one game at a time.

“I don’t think [the difficulty of beating a team three times in one year] matters. I think it is hard beating them once, especially a team like that,” she said. “It’s the game to get to the championship, so I don’t think it matters who we are playing. The fact that it is UConn, I think we both have some familiarity [with each other].

In a Wednesday teleconference, Huskies coach Geno Auriemma was asked what concerns him the most about playing Notre Dame.

“The most, everything,” he responded. “This is the eighth time we’re playing them in 12 months, and it’s crazy, isn’t it? I mean, it’s just ridiculous. Everything. Everything. I think if you stripped them apart as a team and all the components, you would find they don’t have any weaknesses, and you can’t say that about a lot of teams.”

Some of that praise can definitely be attributed to Diggins, he said.

“Certainly Skylar Diggins is playing unbelievable basketball right now,” Auriemma said.

Diggins will try to continue this trend, as Notre Dame looks to advance to the national championship game for its second-straight year. And as the Irish take on Connecticut to earn that right, they will look to their junior point guard, who will – as always – have her eye on the prize.

“We know what it is like to get there, but we don’t know what it is like to win it,” Diggins said. “So it’ll be great for us.”


Contact Kelsey Manning at kmannin3@nd.edu