March 3, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Following its tie for second place in this year’s BIG EAST Conference race, the No. 7/8 Notre Dame women’s basketball team was recognized for its efforts with numerous individual honors on Thursday, as the league office announced this year’s all-conference and all-freshman teams, as well as several specialty awards.
Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was one of just four unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selections this season, following up on her second-team all-conference citation last year. Junior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) joined Diggins on the All-BIG EAST First Team, marking the first time in the 34-year history of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program that the Fighting Irish have had three players earn first-team all-conference honors in the same season in any of their league memberships (BIG EAST since 1995-96, plus Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League from 1988-95 and North Star Conference from 1983-88). Notre Dame also is just the third school ever to field three first-team all-BIG EAST players in the same season, something only Providence (1989-90) and Connecticut (2001-02, 2007-08 and 2009-10) have duplicated.
However, the day wasn’t over for both Novosel and Peters, who copped specialty awards as well. Novosel was named the BIG EAST Most Improved Player, the third time a Notre Dame has been so honored (but the first since Megan Duffy in 2004), while Peters was chosen as the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, the first Fighting Irish player to earn that award since Ruth Riley’s three-year domination of the honor from 1999-2001.
In addition, freshman forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) added another feather in her cap as one of four unanimous selections for this year’s BIG EAST All-Freshman Team. Achonwa’s appearance on the conference’s rookie squad gives the Fighting Irish a total of nine BIG EAST All-Freshman selections in the past five seasons, more than any other school in the conference (Connecticut is the closest pursuer with eight all-freshman honorees in this five-year span).
The 16 BIG EAST head coaches voted for this year’s honors, but were not allowed to vote for their own players. The complete rundown of all-conference teams, as well as the choices for some of the BIG EAST’s other specialty awards (Sixth Man and Sportsmanship), can be found on the conference’s official web site, www.bigeast.org. The official announcements of the Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Coach of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be made at a press conference at 5 p.m. (ET) Friday from the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., the site of this year’s BIG EAST Championship.
“What a remarkable accomplishment by all four of these players, and what makes it even more special is that these awards are voted on by the other coaches in the conference,” Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s a testament to all the hard work that each of these players put in during the summer, as well as during preseason workouts and then all throughout this season. We couldn’t be prouder and we know that the best is still yet to come for each of them.”
This year’s trio of first-team selections also represents the eighth consecutive year, and 14th time in Notre Dame’s 16-year BIG EAST membership (1995-96 to present), that the Fighting Irish have had at least one player garner first-team all-conference status. In fact, in McGraw’s 24 seasons as head coach at Notre Dame, covering three conference affiliations (BIG EAST, Midwestern Collegiate/Horizon League, and North Star), the Fighting Irish have had at least one first-team all-conference selection an astounding 21 times (all but 1993, 1998 and 2003).
This marks the third time in four seasons, but just the fifth time in program history, that Notre Dame has fielded three all-conference selections in the same year. Last year, Lindsay Schrader was a first-team honoree, while Diggins and Ashley Barlow appeared on the second team. In 2008, Charel Allen was a first-team pick, while Schrader and Barlow were honorable mention choices. In 2001, Riley and current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey were first-team selections, while Alicia Ratay copped third-team status and Kelley Siemon was an honorable mention pick. In 1999, Riley garnered first-team laurels, Sheila McMillen earned second-team honors, and Ivey was voted to the All-BIG EAST Third Team.
Diggins is appearing on the midseason candidate lists for all of the major national awards, including her selection as a semifinalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award that goes to the country’s top point guard. A BIG EAST Player of the Week honoree on Feb. 14, as well as a two-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll pick this season, Diggins has started 29 of 30 games for Notre Dame (all but Senior Day on Feb. 26 vs. Cincinnati, when she gave up her starting spot for a departing senior), leading the team in assists (career-high 4.6 assists per game) while ranking second in scoring (career-high 14.1 points per game) and third in steals (1.9 spg.). The 5-foot-9 southpaw also has chalked up a double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds in a win over current No. 22/20 Gonzaga on Dec. 29 in Seattle), 24 double-figure scoring games, and a team-high seven “5-5-5” games this season (posting at least five in three of the five major statistical categories — points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks).
Diggins currently ranks among the conference leaders in scoring (11th), assists (fifth) and steals (14th). During BIG EAST regular season play, she was among the league’s best in scoring (10th – 14.3 ppg.), assists (seventh – 4.6 apg.), steals (eighth – 2.0 spg.), free throw percentage (14th – .765) and assist/turnover ratio (15th – 1.2).
What’s more, Diggins eclipsed the 900-point mark for her career in Monday’s regular-season finale at No. 12 DePaul, becoming just the fourth Notre Dame women’s basketball player to reach that total prior to the end of her sophomore year. That elite club also includes the program’s all-time leading scorer, Beth Morgan (exactly 1,000 points in her first two seasons of 1993-94 and 1994-95), as well as Shari Matvey (943 points in 1979-80 and 1980-81) and Alicia Ratay (913 points in 1999-2000 and 2000-01).
Novosel was a three-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll selection this season, in addition to garnering Most Valuable Player honors at the WBCA Classic and a spot on the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic All-Tournament Team. The 5-foot-11 guard has started all 30 games, leading the team in scoring at 15.0 points per game, tripling her offensive production from a year ago. She also has posted a team-high 26 double-figure scoring games this season (after having 14 in her first two years combined), including five 20-point games (her career high entering this season was 19 points), piling up 449 total points after scoring 390 markers in her first two seasons under the Golden Dome.
As if that weren’t enough, Novosel is averaging career bests of 4.0 rebounds per game (nearly doubling last year’s mark of 2.2 rpg.), 2.0 assists per game (after 1.7 apg. last year) and 2.0 steals per game (after last year’s 1.3 spg.), with a career-high .373 three-point percentage and .779 free throw percentage.
Novosel presently ranks among the top 11 in the BIG EAST in scoring (seventh), free throw percentage (sixth) and steals (11th). In conference play, she also placed among the top 15 in the loop in scoring (ninth – 14.4 ppg.), free throw percentage (15th – .755) and steals (tied-12th – 1.8 spg.).
After missing portions of the past three seasons due to a pair of knee injuries and three subsequent surgeries, Peters made the most of her first fully healthy campaign by starting all 30 games and averaging career highs of 11.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.7 assists per game with a .593 field goal percentage and seven double-doubles. The 6-2 forward also was named the Most Valuable Player of the State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic and also was a member of the WBCA Classic All-Tournament Team, in addition to garnering a spot on the BIG EAST Honor Roll in three successive weeks from Jan. 3-17.
Peters currently ranks among the conference leaders in field goal percentage (second), double-doubles (tied-third), blocks (sixth – 1.6 bpg.), rebounding (eighth) and scoring (26th), while just missing the top 15 chart in steals (a mere .004 steals per game out of 15th place). In fact, up until the final statistics report of the regular season, Peters was one of only two BIG EAST players (along with Connecticut’s Maya Moore) to rank among the top 15 in the conference in the three major defensive categories (rebounding, blocks and steals).
During BIG EAST regular season action, Peters was even more dominant, placing among the top three in the conference in field goal percentage (league-leading .621), rebounding (second – 7.9 rpg.), double-doubles (second – 5) and blocks (third – 1.9 bpg.), while placing 15th in scoring (12.9 ppg.). These numbers were part of a resurgent effort by Peters after the Christmas holiday — in those 18 games since the Yuletide break, she is averaging 13.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game with a .623 field goal percentage and seven double-doubles.
Achonwa is the latest in a long line of Notre Dame freshmen to enjoy successful rookie seasons. The first international player in the 34-year history of Fighting Irish women’s basketball, Achonwa has been one of Notre Dame’s top reserves this year, averaging 7.3 points per game while ranking second on the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg.) and third in field goal percentage (.553). She also has scored in double figures 10 times this season, including a career-high 14 points on two occasions (Dec. 11 vs. Creighton; Feb. 5 at South Florida), and she grabbed a personal-best 13 rebounds at No. 9/10 Kentucky on Nov. 21.
No. 7/8 Notre Dame (24-6, 13-3) finished the regular season tied for second in the BIG EAST standings, its eighth top-two finish in 16 years as a conference member. The Fighting Irish are seeded third for the 16-team conference tournament and will have a “double bye” into the quarterfinal round, which tips off Sunday in Hartford, Conn., at the XL Center. Notre Dame will play at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday against the winner of the second-round tournament game between No. 6 seed Louisville and the first-round winner between No. 11 seed Providence and No. 14 seed Villanova.The Fighting Irish quarterfinal game will be televised live to a national cable audience on ESPNU, and it also can be heard live on the radio in the Michiana area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1), as well as worldwide on the Internet at www.UND.com with veteran broadcaster Bob Nagle on the call.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (www.twitter.com/ndwbbsid or www.twitter.com/notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the sidebar on the women’s basketball page at UND.com.
— ND —
2010-11 Notre Dame Women’s Basketball — BIG EAST Award Recipients
Most Improved Player/All-BIG EAST First Team — Natalie Novosel (Jr., G, Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic)
Defensive Player of the Year/All-BIG EAST First Team — Devereaux Peters (Sr., F, Chicago, Ill./Fenwick)
All-BIG EAST First Team (unanimous) — Skylar Diggins (So., G, South Bend, Ind./Washington)
All-BIG EAST Freshman Team (unanimous) — Natalie Achonwa (Fr., F, Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic)