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ND Women’s Basketball: Sky-high scorer

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, January 28, 2013

When it came time for highly-recruited senior Skylar Diggins to announce her college choice in the fall of 2008, she sat in front of gathered family, friends and media in the Washington High School library and opened her letterman jacket to reveal a t-shirt with “Irish” printed over her number “4.”

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw wore a replica of that t-shirt under her black blazer at the press conference following Notre Dame’s 89-44 win over Providence Saturday, when Diggins, now a senior guard for the No. 2 Irish (18-1, 7-0 Big East), scored her 2,000th point. 

“What she’s brought to Notre Dame and what she’s done for this community is amazing,” McGraw said of Diggins. “Everything she does represents Notre Dame so well and the program so well, and wherever she goes from coast to coast, she’s such a good ambassador for our program.”

Diggins, who is now fourth on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list, entered the game with 1,999 points. She didn’t leave the crowd waiting for long. Notre Dame won the tip, junior forward Natalie Achonwa served the ball to Diggins and Diggins finished the lay-up just four seconds into the action.

“I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible, just not think about it,” Diggins said. “But the crowd, they’re always loud and always exciting, but the roar that came when I made the basket is something I’ll never forget.”

But Diggins wasn’t done just yet. A few minutes after her first basket, she went on a 10-0 run of her own, making four consecutive field goals to stretch the Irish lead to 20-4. She didn’t miss a shot until the second half and finished with 21 points on nine-of-10 shooting.

Providence (6-13, 1-5 Big East) struggled to compete all day: Diggins alone outscored the Friars until several minutes into the second half, when she was already done playing for the game.

The starting lineup, including Achonwa (14 points) and freshman guard Jewell Loyd (10 points) got much of the second half off. 

“I really felt like we just wanted to play the bench a little bit,” McGraw said. “Give them some time and see how we can play without [Diggins], because that’s something that we struggled with in the last game.”

But the bench held its own. Senior guard Kaila Turner and sophomore guard Madison Cable both tallied nine points, while freshman guard Michaela Mabrey scored eight.

Although the Irish were the beneficiaries of an emotional home crowd Saturday, Notre Dame will find themselves on the opposite side today when they travel to face No. 9 Tennessee (16-3 7-0 SEC). The Lady Vols will unveil a banner honoring their legendary former coach, Pat Summitt, who retired last year after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. 

“I think you’ve got to eliminate the crowd right at the beginning,” Diggins said. “We’ve got to set the tempo right away. So we have to start in control, get three stops in a row.  The first four minutes are the most important, and we have to go on our run first.”

McGraw said she was happy for the opportunity to play in Knoxville, Tenn., and help honor Summitt, the winningest college basketball coach in history, 

“It’s a huge game; they’re playing really well,” McGraw said. “It’s going to be a Big Monday game [on ESPN]. I’m sure it’s going to be a sellout and a lot of excitement, so we’re excited to be going down there.”

If the Irish are to spoil the Vols’ night, they will have to find a way to stop Tennessee junior guard Meighan Simmons. 

“I think she can score in a variety of ways,” Diggins said. “She’s a very emotional player. She can score in bunches, and I think it’s going to be a team job to know where she is because she has a quick release on her shot.”

The Irish and Volunteers will tip-off at 7 p.m. tonight in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]