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Hartnett: Freshmen necessary to fill gap left by Diggins (Oct. 31)

Brian Hartnett | Thursday, October 31, 2013

 

Skylar Diggins in 2009-10: 13.8 points per game, 3.2 assists per game

Kayla McBride in 2010-11: 8.7 points per game, .557 field-goal percentage

Jewell Loyd in 2012-13: 12.5 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game

The three examples above illustrate some of the contributions freshmen have made in recent seasons at Notre Dame. Even though the Irish have been at the top of the polls for many of the last few seasons, they have always managed to work their freshmen into the lineup and get them valuable experience from the start.

Why are these examples relevant to this year’s Notre Dame squad?

Because the Irish will need quick contributions from the four freshmen who make up the No. 4 recruiting class nationally if they want to make their fourth-straight Final Four.

Was that enough four you? Well, I’m not quite finished, because these freshmen will also have to replace a certain No. 4 who took the Irish to new heights over the last four seasons.

Turn on any Notre Dame game this season and you’re likely to hear Diggins mentioned about as much as any current player on the team. 

That’s definitely not a bad thing – Diggins was a hometown hero who launched Notre Dame back into the stratosphere of elite programs. She stepped up for the Irish when they needed it most, and her leadership on the court was invaluable. 

It is this leadership, along with the 17.1 points per game and the plus-six assists per game Diggins averaged last season, that the Irish will need to replace. And that’s not an easy thing to do – see how the football team’s defense faired in its first few games without a similar leader, Manti Te’o

Fortunately, the Irish have the enviable situation of some strong senior leaders to help fill the leadership void. Kayla McBride has emerged into one of the best guards in the country. Natalie Achonwa developed into a tough post presence last season, and Ariel Braker has battled through injuries to become a reliable rebounder and formidable shot blocker.

Add in last year’s National Freshman of the Year in Loyd, and it’s clear the Irish have a heralded nucleus of players. 

But in order to get past the Connecticuts and Baylors of the world, Notre Dame will need some nice numbers from its newcomers.

Fortunately, Wednesday night’s exhibition showed that the class of 2017 might just be up for that task. Sure, Wednesday night’s California team was not the one from Berkeley, but it was Notre Dame’s first chance to show the Purcell Pavilion crowd what might be in store for them.

Freshman forward Taya Reimer illustrated that the future might be quite bright. The 6-foot-3 Indiana native connected on all 11 of her field goal attempts to finish with 27 points in just 20 minutes of action. 

Freshman guard Lindsay Allen took over Diggins’ role of point guard and showed flashes of her predecessor, dishing out eight assists and scoring 13 points of her own.

Notre Dame’s other two freshmen, forward Kristina Nelson and center Diamond Thompson, didn’t play as much as their classmates, but still connected for a few points in the post and brought some much-needed height down low. 

All in all, even a perfectionist like Irish coach Muffet McGraw would deem Wednesday night’s scrimmage a success for the team’s freshmen. They key will be whether the quartet can sustain a high level of play over the course of a tough non-conference slate and a daunting first season in the ACC.

If any of Notre Dame’s four freshmen can put up numbers like those listed above, there might be a good shot for a fourth-straight Final Four this spring. And without No. 4 to lead the charge, that’s a pretty big deal.

Contact Brian Hartnett at bhartnet@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.