Aug. 3, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – For the first time in the 35-year history of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, three Fighting Irish players have been selected for the same USA Basketball team. On Wednesday afternoon, USA Basketball announced that Notre Dame rising junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington), rising senior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and rising fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) all have made the final cut for the 12-player United States World University Games Team, which will compete Aug. 14-21 in Shenzhen, China.
The Fighting Irish trio had returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday to resume practicing with the squad, with the understanding that two of the team’s 14 finalists would have to be cut at some point this week by the USA Basketball Women’s Junior National Team Committee, which is chaired by Sue Donohoe, the NCAA’s vice president for Division I women’s basketball.
“We are just ecstatic to hear that Skylar, Natalie and Devereaux will be playing for Team USA at the World University Games,” Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “It’s obviously a historic day for the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, and it’s a testament to their work ethic, their determination and their desire to compete and be successful. To see the three of them be recognized and rewarded for their hard work, that’s especially gratifying. We’re all looking forward to watching them represent our country with pride and bring home the gold, along with a great deal of international experience for next season.”
The now-complete United States World University Games Team is coached by Iowa State University skipper (and former Notre Dame assistant coach) Bill Fennelly, while Duquesne’s Suzie McConnell-Serio and Georgetown’s Terri Williams-Flournoy serving on Fennelly’s staff. Team USA will continue practicing in Colorado Springs through Sunday night, leaving the following day for China to complete preparations for the World University Games.
“Getting the group down to 12 is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my lifetime, in coaching anyway,” Fennelly said. “You have 14 people who worked very hard at it, who were very committed to it and it’s not something like they weren’t good enough. It’s about trying to build a team with some versatility. It was very, very hard, but I’m very happy for the 12 young people who made it. They’ll do a great job representing USA Basketball and ultimately that’s what this is all about.
“There’s a step to this,” he continued. “When you had 14, there were things you didn’t want to get into, because they may not be here. They were all on a little bit of an edge, because they don’t know if they’re on the team or not. Some kids handle that differently. They play passive because they don’t want to make a mistake. It’s the whole idea of playing not to lose the game rather than playing to win the game. Now, they know they’re on the team and hopefully after their initial excitement, they can relax and refocus on figuring a way to win. We know the combinations, we know the people we’re going to work with now. It is a process, but I think moving from now until we leave the training center, I think we’ll be focused a lot differently on preparing and practicing for the task at hand, getting ready to play and building a team.”
The United States side will conduct a pair of scrimmages prior to the 16-team tournament, taking on Brazil (Aug. 10, 6:30 a.m. ET) and Australia (Aug. 12, 2:30 a.m. ET) at the Longgong (China) Sports Center. The World University Games women’s basketball competition gets underway Aug. 14 (Aug. 13 in the U.S.), with Team USA facing Brazil at 10 p.m. ET in the Universiade Main Gym. The Americans also will take on Slovakia (Aug. 14, 10 p.m. ET) and Great Britain (Aug. 16, 6 a.m. ET) at the same arena during preliminary round play, with the top two teams in each of the four pools advancing to the quarterfinals.
After a day off, the World University Games quarterfinals will be held Aug. 18. The medal semifinals take place the following day, and the contests for the gold and bronze medals scheduled for Aug. 21. Exact tip times and sites for the final three rounds of the tournament will be determined based upon team finishes during the preliminary round.
Along with the three Notre Dame selections, the BIG EAST Conference had a fourth player chosen for this year’s USA World University Games Team as DePaul’s Keisha Hampton also made the squad. Collectively, the four-player BIG EAST contingent (not counting assistant coach Williams-Flournoy) is the largest from one conference on the final 12-player roster, with the newly-expanded Pac-12 Conference next up with three selections.
The Pac-12 also featured one of the other two schools to have multiple players chosen, as Stanford’s Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike joined Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen of Southeastern Conference member Tennessee on the United States World University Games Team. Rounding out the American roster are Elena Delle Donne (Delaware), Jacki Gemelos (USC), Lynetta Kizer (Maryland) and Odyssey Sims (Baylor).
Only twice before has Notre Dame placed multiple women’s basketball players on the same USA Basketball squad, as All-Americans Katryna Gaither (’97) and Beth Morgan (’97) were teammates on the 1997 U.S. World Championships Qualifying Team (silver medal) and the 1999 USA Pan American Games Team (bronze medal).
With this year’s trio of selections, Notre Dame now has seen 10 of its women’s basketball players compete on the international level, including eight in the last eight years. In fact, the last five times a Fighting Irish player (either current or incoming freshman) suited up for a USA Basketball team at an international competition, that American side has come home with the gold medal. Most recently, rising sophomore guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) started all five games for the victorious 2010 USA Women’s U18 Americas Championship Team.
What’s more, this will mark the fourth time Notre Dame has been represented on a USA World University Games Team roster, and the first since 2005, when Megan Duffy (’06) was the starting point guard and co-captain for the gold medal-winning United States squad at the tournament in Ismir, Turkey, piloting an American offense that outscored its opponents by a staggering 43.1 points per game en route to a 7-0 record. In 1997, Morgan’s USA World University Games Team struck gold in Marsala, Sicily, and two years later, Ruth Riley (’01) earned a silver medal with Team USA at the World University Games in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Diggins put together one of the finest sophomore seasons in Notre Dame women’s basketball history in 2010-11. The crafty southpaw made a nearly-seamless transition to the point guard position this past season, ranking among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.0 ppg.), assists (team-high 4.8 apg.) and steals (1.9 spg.), posting career highs in all three areas. What’s more, her 585 total points and 186 total assists are the second-most ever accrued by a Notre Dame sophomore — Gaither scored 590 points in 1994-95, while Mary Gavin dished out 205 assists in 1985-86 — and her 75 steals are fourth on the Fighting Irish sophomore charts (just eight off the school record), while her 1,226 total minutes were just one shy of Morgan’s school record set in 1996-97.
A State Farm Coaches’ All-America and third-team Associated Press All-America selection this year, Diggins also ranked second on the team with 32 double-digit scoring games, leading the squad in scoring 14 times and rolling up 10 20-point outings, including the last three NCAA Championship games against Tennessee (24), Connecticut (season-high 28) and Texas A&M (23). She added at least five assists in 22 different games (after having seven five-assist games her entire freshman season), capped by a career-high 12 assists against Oklahoma in the NCAA Dayton Regional semifinal, the most helpers ever for a Fighting Irish player in the NCAA tournament, and most in any game since 2000.
A unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selection, the NCAA Dayton Regional Most Outstanding Player and a member of the NCAA Women’s Final Four All-Tournament Team, as well as being a finalist for the three major national player-of-the-year awards (State Farm Wade Trophy, John R. Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy) and the Nancy Lieberman Award (top point guard), Diggins also made history in that regional final win over Tennessee, becoming just the second Notre Dame player to score 1,000 career points in less than two seasons with the Fighting Irish (Morgan had exactly 1,000 points at the end of her sophomore season of 1994-95), and doing so in 72 games, tying for the fourth-fastest run to the scoring millennium in program history. Diggins currently ranks 24th on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list with 1,069 points.
On the international stage, Diggins has earned a gold medal with two USA Basketball teams — the 2008 FIBA U18 Americas Championship and the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships for Women, with both squads led by current Notre Dame associate coach Carol Owens. Diggins also took home a gold medal from the 2007 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival. What’s more, she is one of five members of this year’s USA World University Games Team with USA Basketball experience, most notably serving as co-captain for the 2009 U19 World Championship squad (an honor she shared with Stanford’s Nnemkadi Ogwumike).
Meanwhile, Novosel was easily one of the nation’s most improved players in 2010-11, nabbing State Farm Coaches’ honorable mention All-America and first-team all-BIG EAST laurels, as well as the BIG EAST’s Most Improved Player award, after more than tripling her scoring average from a year ago from 5.0 points to a team-high 15.1 points per game, while scoring in double figures a team-best 33 times, the second-highest single-season total in school history (Gaither had 37 double-digit games in 1996-97) and nearly doubling her combined total of 17 from her first two years. Novosel also had seven 20-point games (her career high entering the season was 19 points) and posted a team-best .413 three-point percentage, in addition to being second on the squad in steals (tied-1.9 spg.) and third in assists (1.9 apg.).
In 2010-11, Novosel set a new school record with 183 free throws made and 39 games started (tying with Peters and senior forward/co-captain Becca Bruszewski), while her 232 free throw attempts were second-most in school history. What’s more, she placed among the top 10 on the program’s single-season charts for total points (7th – 588) and minutes played (9th – 1,102).
Peters also enjoyed her finest season at Notre Dame in 2010-11, having fully recovered from a pair of knee injuries earlier in her career. Peters set new career highs in virtually every category, ranking third on the team in scoring (11.9 ppg.) and tops in double-doubles (10), rebounding (7.5 rpg.), field goal percentage (.593), and blocked shots (1.7 bpg.), not to mention fourth in steals (1.7 spg.). She also placed fifth in the country in field goal percentage, and ranked among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (22nd), rebounding (6th), field goal percentage (2nd), blocked shots (4th) and double-doubles (2nd). What’s more, she was one of just two players in the nation to record at least 60 blocks and 60 steals this season (she had 68 blocks and 66 steals), joining Illinois’ Karisma Penn (78/62) in that select company.
Like Novosel, Peters was named a State Farm Coaches’ honorable mention All-America and first-team all-BIG EAST selection this past year, while also taking home BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year honors. She scored in double figures 25 times and tied the school record by starting all 39 games during Notre Dame’s run to the NCAA national championship game. In that title clash against Texas A&M, Peters rang up a double-double with 21 points (on 8-of-10 shooting) and a game-high 11 rebounds, securing her place on the NCAA Women’s Final Four All-Tournament Team.
Other representatives of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program to compete on the world stage through the years include: Melissa Lechlitner (’10), who struck gold with the 2007 Women’s U19 World Championship Team (making Lechlitner the first South Bend-area female to earn a gold medal in international basketball competition and paving the way for Diggins’ current gold rush), and Riley, who was a member of the 2004 Women’s Senior National Team that won gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. All told, Notre Dame players have earned 14 medals in international competition, including seven gold medals.
The World University Games are a multi-sport competition organized every other year by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The U.S. women’s basketball team will be comprised of U.S. citizens who are currently enrolled in college and have remaining eligibility.
USA Basketball women’s teams have participated in 15 prior World University Games and collected a record seven gold medals, six silvers and one bronze medal. Since 1973, the first year the USA women competed in the WUGs, the United States has compiled an 89-15 (.856) overall record. In 2009, the USA posted a 7-0 slate en route to the gold medal.
Additional quotes, photos and other information on the USA Basketball World University Games Team (including a feature article on Novosel) can be found at www.usabasketball.com.
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the sidebar on the women’s basketball page at UND.com.
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