Notre Dame women's basketball: Big East target on Diggins, ND
It’s a scene Big East Conference women’s basketball coaches know all too well, and one they remembered when they filled out their ballots for the league’s preseason player of the year.
Diggins, a 5-foot-9 junior point guard who led South Bend Washington to four state championship games, was named the conference’s top player during the Big East Media Day on Thursday.
The last time a Notre Dame player was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year was in 2004, when another former Washington Panther, Jacqueline Batteast, earned the honor.
Irish teammates Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters joined Diggins on the Big East preseason first team. Novosel, the Big East’s most improved player last season, averaged 15.1 points as a junior. Peters, like Novosel a senior, averaged 11.9 points and was named the Big East Defensive player of the year.
Additionally, coach Muffet McGraw’s Irish were selected as the Big East preseason No. 1 team, the first time in the school’s 17-year Big East membership that it has been the outright league favorite. It was also the first time in 10 seasons that Connecticut was not named the preseason favorite in the Big East.
Diggins averaged 15.0 points last season in leading Notre Dame to a national runner-up finish. The Irish guard and McGraw were in New York on Thursday for the league media day, and then caught a flight so they could be back in South Bend for an early evening practice.
“It’s an honor, but at the same time, it’s a preview,” Diggins said. “It’s not a review. I still have to work on that part of it.
“A lot of people were asking me about the pressure. ‘Does that put a lot of pressure on you, Sky?’ The thing is, no one could put more pressure on me than I put on myself. The expectations I have for myself are greater than the expectations anyone else could have for me.”
McGraw said that Diggins’ versatility is her greatest strength.
“She’s such a dangerous player with the ball in her hands,” McGraw said. “You don’t know what she’s going to do. She can drive it, she can shoot it, she can pass it. It’s really hard to guard somebody who has a complete game. She’s got a pull-up jumper, she can take it all the way. You might worry more about her passing. She’s a good free-throw shooter, so you don’t want to foul her.”
McGraw said that Notre Dame’s selection as the preseason favorite is meaningful.
“It’s nice, because Connecticut has been No. 1 for the last 10 years,” McGraw said. “I think the other coaches in the league were probably happy to vote for somebody else, for a change. It gives the league more parity and opens things up a little bit. I think there are a lot of teams who can win the league this season.”
Defending Irish honor
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma took shots at Notre Dame during the Big East media day. Auriemma blamed Notre Dame’s football independence as a reason for the Big East being ransacked by other conferences for expansion purposes.
McGraw defended Notre Dame’s stance on being a member in the Big East in all sports except football.
“I think that we’ve been independent in football forever, and we’ve always said we wanted to maintain our independence,” McGraw said. “I don’t think it’s any secret. I think we’ve been honest about it.
“I think that the Big East has spent too much time trying to figure out who is to blame for the demise of the Big East instead of figuring out how we’re going to keep it together. We’ve been incredibly loyal to the Big East and extremely productive for the league.”
Notre Dame will host Irish Madness on Friday night at Purcell Pavilion, an event designed to showcase the women’s and men’s basketball teams.
“We have so many Irish fans in for the USC game, we thought, why not give them a taste of basketball while they are here?” said Notre Dame women’s basketball director of operations Stephanie Menio. “We have a dance competition, 3-point contests, a dunk contest and scrimmages planned, and it’s free.”
Gates open at 7 p.m. and festivities are scheduled to take place at 8 p.m.
Among the special guests are Ruth Riley, who led the Irish women to a national title in 2001, and former Irish men’s basketball All-American Luke Harangody. Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown and ESPN analysts Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps are also expected to attend the event.
“The whole event is integrated between the men’s and women’s programs,” Menio said. “Normally, other schools do a "Midnight Madness" for the first practice. We really wanted to capitalize on all the fans coming in for the USC weekend. A lot of fans are always looking for something to do on Friday night, and this is just another opportunity for them.”
Staff writer Curt Rallo: