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Diggins ends legendary collegiate career

Cory Bernard | Monday, April 8, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – “Best player ever.”
Those were the words Irish coach Muffet McGraw used to describe senior guard Skylar Diggins after Notre Dame’s loss to Connecticut on Sunday. The same player McGraw was describing had just finished a game in which she shot 20 percent from the field, turned the ball over six times and for the third straight year fell short of a national championship.
“I think she’s a champion. I do,” McGraw said of Diggins. “I know we didn’t win it, but what she has done for us has been amazing and she’s leaves Notre Dame as the most celebrated and decorated and best player ever, and I’m happy for that.”
In terms of scoring, Diggins is the best Notre Dame player ever. She finished her Irish career Sunday with 2,357 points, the program’s new all-time record. In the process, Diggins did more than impress her own coach.
“I would say there hasn’t been an opponent that we played against that’s had more success against us than she’s had,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.
Although Diggins’ poor shooting night fell well below her career standards, she has struggled offensively against Connecticut this season. In four games against the Huskies, she shot 30 percent from the field and turned the ball over 26 times. According to Auriemma, however, Diggins’ statistics alone do not indicate her greatness.
“Well, you know the ironic thing about it is that if you check Skylar’s shooting percentage and all that stuff against us, it’s not that great, including tonight,” he said. “But what makes her who she is, is that invariably whenever there’s a time where she has to get a three, she gets one.  Whenever she needs to get in the lane and get an assist, she gets one.”
Since Diggins first suited up at Notre Dame in 2009, the Irish have lost a total of 20 games. She and fellow senior Kaila Turner are the only players on the Notre Dame roster to know the feeling of losing before reaching the Final Four.
“We definitely owe a lot to Skylar for what she brought to us the last three years,” junior forward Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s been a great run. We don’t know anything but the Final Four – our class.  We were very fortunate to be here again.”
Freshman guard Jewell Loyd said Diggins’ career ended on a sad note but still provided a glimmer of hope.
“I told her I love her [after the game]. You know I wanted to win it for her, obviously,” Loyd said. “Everything she’s done for me I kind of just want to give it back to her but she told me to get better and come back here next year.”
According to Loyd, Diggins’ leadership will continue to affect the Irish, especially Loyd herself.
“I use this as motivation for next year,” Loyd said “I know one thing, I’m not going to lose her as a [sister].  She already told me that she would keep in contact with me and everything.  A friendship like that doesn’t go away.”
Auriemma also praised Diggins’ legacy, telling her after the game her inability to win a national championship does not diminish her iconic status.
“[Auriemma] just said don’t let this game define my legacy,” Diggins said. “He told me that he feels like I’ve done more for the sport than some people who won four national championships.  And he just told me that I’ve done a lot for the game of basketball and I had a great career.”
Though it didn’t end perfectly, Diggins’ night did end in a fitting way, with the South Bend native thanking her hometown as she left the podium at New Orleans Arena.
“I just want to say thank you to all the fans and the city of South Bend for the support.  Thank you, thank you,” she said.
But if friends and competitors alike are any indication, it’s Diggins who should be thanked.
Contact Cory Bernard at [email protected]