ND Women’s Basketball: Getting ‘Nasty’
Joseph Monardo | Thursday, March 22, 2012
Whatever it takes, Natalie Novosel is willing to do it.
The senior guard can drain jumpers, make the right pass, slash to the basket and finish at the rim. And she does it all with regularity.
After pedestrian freshman and sophomore seasons, Novosel emerged as one of the nation’s best players as a junior. In the 2010-2011 season, Novosel started all 39 games for the Irish, improving her previous season’s average of five points per game to a team-leading 15.1. Novosel reached double-digit scoring totals in 33 games as a junior after reaching the mark only 19 times total her first two seasons and posted seven 20-point performances and made a school-record 183 free throws.
Following her stellar third year, Novosel received an invitation to compete in the World University Games alongside Irish junior guard Skylar Diggins and graduate student forward Devereaux Peters.
“That just gave me a lot of confidence, to know that I was one of the premier players in the nation and to have Dev and Sky on the same team,” Novosel said. “That’s three players on one team, we were able to just come back and [it] just kind of [motivated] us and [showed] us what we can do this year, and I think that was really exciting.”
In her final season, Novosel has not experienced any drop-off from her breakout campaign last year. The guard is averaging 15.3 points, four rebounds and two assists per game.
“Nat’s been amazing,” Peters said. “She has been a huge offensive threat for us … it has been great for us because whenever we really need a basket and we have been going through a drought or things haven’t been falling, we can always count on Nat to get to the basket and get a layup and get to the line, so she has been great for us and she has grown a lot in the past two years.”
Having grown into a leader on the score sheet, Novosel eased into a position of leadership on the team naturally, she said.
“I think I am a leader by example,” the senior said. “They always tell me that I work the hardest and make the hustle plays – I think everybody [on this team] does that. But I think that just being an example on the court and always giving 100 percent [makes me a leader].”
Novosel exhibited her leadership ability multiple times this season, most notably by netting a game-winning buzzer beater against No. 7 Duke to capture the Junkaroo Jam title in the Bahamas on Nov. 26. Novosel shot just 6-of-20 from the field for the game, including 1-of-10 shooting in the first half, but finished with 15 points and propelled the Irish to victory with her jump shot as time expired.
However, for the native of Lexington, Ky., another game provided the top memory from this season.
“I would say, definitely, the Kentucky game – avenging last year’s loss [was the highlight],” she said. “And then, my buzzer-beater in the Bahamas, that was really fun.”
In Notre Dame’s 92-83 victory over then-No. 7 Kentucky on Dec. 18 at Purcell Pavilion, Novosel scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Irish avenge a loss to the Wildcats during the 2010 season.
“It was a great win for me,” Novosel said after that contest. “I thanked every one of [my teammates]. I’m just really happy; it felt really good to get that win and a little revenge.”
Much of Novosel’s success is a product of her versatility, Peters said. Able to score from inside and out, the senior guard presents a significant challenge to opposing defenses.
“I don’t really think anybody can guard her,” Peters said. “She is very deceptive with her game and her moves and the way she slashes to the baskets and gets around people.”
However, when her jumpers are not falling or she is unable to find an open shot, Novosel turns to the aspect of her game that most closely corresponds to her nickname: “Nasty.” The 5-foot-11 guard has the speed to attack the basket and the strength to finish layups while absorbing contact, often drawing a foul in the process.
“I think [having an inside game] is huge for me, because when my outside shots aren’t falling and I can get confidence at the free throw line, I think that is what is most important,” she said. “Also, getting the other players in foul trouble so we can open up other people, I think that is key.”
In Sunday’s 73-62 win over California in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Novosel powered the Irish offense with 28 points, in large part by making 18-of-20 shots from the free-throw line, the most ever made in an NCAA tournament game. The game’s leading scorer also brought down nine rebounds and recorded four steals on the night.
Novosel’s 84.5 percent shooting from the stripe this year is a product of a simple concept, she said.
“Repetition,” Novosel said. “[I am] in the gym always just shooting the same shot at the free throw line and making sure I see the ball go in.”
Even when she is not able to draw a foul, Novosel’s ability to penetrate the lane creates other opportunities for the Irish offense, Peters said.
“Especially when [she drives] to the paint – if she drives past somebody, somebody has to pick her up, and it is usually the person that is on the block, which is my man,” she said. “So that opens up a lot of possessions for me to either get offensive rebounds or for her to dish it off to me, or whatever it may be at the time.”
While Novosel takes pride in her ability to get to the foul line and draw fouls on opponents, she found herself on the wrong side of that process during the most important game of her
In the national semifinal game last year, Novosel helped to guide the second-seeded Irish to the national championship game with 22 points in a 72-63 victory over top-seeded Connecticut. Novosel drilled a 3- pointer with 7:38 remaining in the game to open up a 12-point lead for the Irish as they held on for their first win against the Huskies in four tries.
However, in the final against No. 2 seed Texas A&M, Novosel spent much of the first half on the bench with two fouls and only managed six points in eight minutes on the court. For the game, Novosel contributed 14 points and four rebounds in 27 minutes as the Irish fell 76-70 to the Aggies.
“It was really tough because I had not been in foul trouble all year,” Novosel said. “It is all about how you respond in the second half and not getting down on yourself and keeping your confidence up and not trying to gain it all back in the first few minutes of the second half. I think [from now on], just once I get that first foul in the first 10 minutes, just back off a little bit and let my teammates help me.”
Novosel will try to be there for the Irish when it matters this year as they head into the Sweet 16 and potentially beyond.
With at most four games remaining in the season, Novosel approaches the end of what has been an impressive career. In a 99-34 win over Indiana State during the Preseason WNIT at Purcell Pavilion, Novosel became just the 29th Irish player to reach 1,000 points in a career (Peters became the 30th on Dec. 28, joining Novosel and junior guard Skylar Diggins on the list). Another individual achievement is within the anthropology major’s grasp, as she is one of 10 finalists selected for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award in women’s basketball.
“It is just really humbling [to be considered],” Novosel said. “To be honest, every rep in the summer, all those sprints, all those community service hours, it is just nice to be recognized.”
The award winner will be announced during the Final Four in Denver, held from April 1-3, but Novosel hopes to be busy preparing for the national championship game about that time. The senior will approach the final games in her career with the same attitude that has accompanied her all along, and she is willing to do anything to accomplish her goal.
“Win. I don’t even care how we do it, I just want to win,” she said.
Contact Joseph Monardo at [email protected]