May 13, 2016
By Chris Masters
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – When the WNBA’s distinctive orange-and-oatmeal basketball goes into the air Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, it officially will tip off the league’s 20th season, continuing the WNBA’s status as the most successful and longest-running women’s professional sports league in history.
For 19 of those 20 seasons (all but the WNBA’s inaugural campaign in 1997), the University of Notre Dame has been front and center in the league’s success with at least one alumna suiting up each year. That includes the 2016 season, as a record-setting five Fighting Irish players – all former All-America selections during their time under the Golden Dome – have made WNBA opening day rosters for the second consecutive year.
Three of those Notre Dame greats will be on hand for Saturday’s league opener in Indianapolis (6 p.m. ET tipoff), as Natalie Achonwa (’14) and Devereaux Peters (’11) lead the defending WNBA Eastern Conference champion Indiana Fever against Skylar Diggins (’13) and the Dallas Wings, who will play their first official game representing Big D after the franchise relocated from Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall.
Saturday’s game also is noteworthy for Peters, who returns to the state where she achieved so much college success, signing a free-agent contract with Indiana during the off-season after four years with the Minnesota Lynx, helping that franchise win two WNBA titles (2013, 2015). Peters is coming off a very successful international season with UE Sopron in the Hungarian Basketball League, averaging 16.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game (all among the top three in the league) while pacing UE Sopron to a 16-2 record and the championship.
Achonwa begins her second professional season on Saturday after she was drafted in 2014 but missed her rookie year with a knee injury suffered at the end of her college career. The Canadian National Team member averaged 8.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game with a .550 field-goal percentage and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team as a part-time starter for Indiana last year while she worked her way back to full strength.
Meanwhile, Diggins returns to the hardwood after missing the final three months of the 2015 WNBA season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. At the time of her injury, Diggins ranked second among Western Conference players in scoring (17.8 points per game) and three-point field-goal percentage (.448 on 13-of-29 from behind the arc), and fourth in assists (5.0 assists per game). She also tied for fifth in the conference in steals (1.56 steals per game) and was sixth in free-throw percentage (.918, 45-of-49).
Despite her injury, Diggins was named the WNBA’s Western Conference Player of the Month in June 2015 and later was voted as a starter for the West at the 2015 WNBA All-Star Game, being chosen as an all-star starter for the second year in a row.
While Diggins didn’t play in last year’s WNBA All-Star Game, another Fighting Irish alumna did, as Kayla McBride (’14) earned her place on the West squad and didn’t disappoint, scoring 18 points in the West’s 117-112 victory. McBride averaged a career-high 13.8 points per game (14th in the league) and 3.1 rebounds per game last season, while also ranking fourth in the WNBA with 53 three-pointers.
McBride is set to begin her third WNBA season at 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday when her San Antonio Stars play host to the Atlanta Dream at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The game, which also marks the debut of former Notre Dame All-American and 13-year WNBA veteran/two-time WNBA champion Ruth Riley (’01) as the Stars’ general manager, will be televised live on ESPN3.
The final Notre Dame women’s basketball alumna to open the 2016 season will be Jewell Loyd, who will help lead the youthful Seattle Storm into Sunday’s 5 p.m. (ET) road opener against the Los Angeles Sparks at Staples Center. That game will air live on Time Warner Cable SportsNet and TWC Deportes in southern California, as well as globally on the WNBA’s rebranded online multimedia platform, WNBA League Pass.
Loyd, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft, earned the WNBA Rookie of the Year award after being the only player to rank among the league’s top five rookies in scoring (1st – 10.7 points per game), rebounding (4th – 3.5 rebounds per game) and assists (5th – 1.9 assists per game) while appearing 34 games and starting 23 times. She also ranked fourth among all WNBA players (regardless of experience) in free-throw percentage (.904).
#IrishintheWNBA Player/Team Links
Natalie Achonwa ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Player Bio
Skylar Diggins ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Player Bio
Jewell Loyd ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Player Bio
Kayla McBride ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Player Bio
Devereaux Peters ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Player Bio
Dallas Wings ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Team Web Site
Indiana Fever ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Team Web Site
San Antonio Stars ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Team Web Site
Seattle Storm ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” WNBA Team Web Site
Likely To Have Breakout Season (1st)
Most Athletic (tied-3rd)
Most Underrated Player (tied-2nd)
Likely To Have Breakout Season (tied-3rd)
Player Acquisition To Make Biggest Impact (tied-3rd)
#IrishintheWNBA Preseason Features
A Day in the Life – Achonwa at the 2016 NBA All-Star Game (espnW)
- With WNBA franchises in Indianapolis and Chicago (which plays its home games at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois), Notre Dame fans are never far from a chance to see their Fighting Irish women’s basketball alumnae in action. In addition to the complete Indiana Fever home schedule, Diggins and her Dallas teammates will visit Indianapolis twice (May 14 and Sept. 18) and Chicago once (July 15). Loyd will lead Seattle into Indianapolis twice (June 1 and June 12) and Chicago once (Sept. 2), while McBride and San Antonio will come to Indianapolis once (July 1) and travel to Chicago twice (June 21 and Sept. 4). Visit the individual team web sites (linked above) for details on ticket purchase options and availability.
- The Notre Dame women’s basketball program will offer a number of bus trips for Fighting Irish fans in the South Bend area to watch these Notre Dame greats compete in the WNBA. For more information, contact the Notre Dame women’s basketball office at (574) 631-5420.
- Notre Dame women’s basketball alumnae will make six nationally-televised appearances on ESPN2 during the 2016 season – June 14 (Indiana at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET), June 21 (Phoenix at Dallas, 8 p.m. ET), June 28 (Dallas at Los Angeles, 10 p.m. ET), July 19 (Los Angeles at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET), Aug. 28 (Seattle at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET) and Sept. 18 (Dallas at Indiana, 4 p.m. ET).
- Fans also can watch nearly every WNBA game featuring a Notre Dame alumna online through ESPN3 and/or the rebranded WNBA League Pass ($16.99 to watch all available league games for the 2016 season), WNBA Team Pass ($9.99 to watch all available games for a specific team during the 2016 season) and WNBA Single Game Pass ($1.99 to watch one selected game). To learn more (including ways to watch on your mobile device through the WNBA app on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Chromecast and Android), visit the WNBA League Pass web page – a free trial of WNBA League Pass is available during this weekend’s season-opening games (May 14-17).
- The Notre Dame women’s basketball program will keep fans updated on the progress of all five Fighting Irish alums in the WNBA during the 2016 season through its various social media accounts, including Twitter (use the hashtag #IrishintheWNBA to follow along and contribute to the conversation in support of these Notre Dame standouts).
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, visit the main women’s basketball page on the University’s official athletics web site (UND.com/ndwbb), sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts (@ndwbb), like the program on Facebook, or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
— ND —
Chris Masters, associate athletics communications director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2001 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women’s basketball and women’s golf programs. A native of San Francisco, California, Masters is a 1996 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, earned his master’s degree from Kansas State University in 1998, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).