March 17, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (AP) – There are two musts for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament: sophomore guard Skylar Diggins must direct the offense and center Devereaux Peters has to stay in the game.
The second-seeded Irish (26-7) meet Utah (18-16) on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
Diggins was the first freshman in 17 years to lead the Irish in scoring (13.8 per game) a season ago.
She and senior Becca Bruszewski were the only two returning starters from last year’s 29-6 team that made the school’s 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Diggins, who pushes and prods her teammates to get better, sees more work ahead in the postseason.
“The next week of practice will be strictly business,” Diggins said. “The only thing we are thinking about right now is Utah. The caliber of teams we have faced in the Big East has prepared us for this.”
The Irish finished in a second-place tie with DePaul behind Connecticut in the conference and were ranked ninth in the final AP poll. Diggins can irritate her teammates with her relentless coaxing, but it’s made the Irish a national contender.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player that has the drive that (Diggins) has,” said coach Muffet McGraw, who has taken the Irish to 16 straight NCAA tournaments. “She really runs this team. This team reacts well. They really love a challenge. They can flash (anger) occasionally, but they forget it the minute they leave the court.”
Notre Dame’s losses to Kentucky and UCLA early in the season just happened to include foul trouble for Peters (five points in 31 minutes total for both games).
When she played 34 minutes and scored 17 points against UConn in January, Notre Dame almost beat the top-ranked Huskies at home before falling 79-76 after leading much of the game.
A month later, she went scoreless, piled up fouls and her team was blown out by the Huskies, 78-57.
The 6-foot-2 Peters averaged 11.6 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds. Natalie Novosel led the Irish in scoring at 14.6 and Diggins was right behind at 14.2, along with a team-best 4.6 assists.
Notre Dame doesn’t need much motivation, not after last year. The Irish won two games at home before losing to Oklahoma in the regional semifinals, 77-72 in overtime.
“I’m going to be ready to play every game, especially this first one,” Bruszewski said. “I think about last year and seeing our seniors so upset and I don’t want to feel that way.”