March 1, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - After earning the first outright BIG EAST Conference regular season title in its 17 years as a league member, the No. 3 Notre Dame women's basketball team was recognized for its efforts with numerous individual honors on Thursday, as the BIG EAST office announced this year's all-conference and all-freshman teams, as well as several specialty awards.
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.
For the second consecutive season, the Fighting Irish had three players named to the All-BIG EAST First Team, with junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) being chosen unanimously to the first team for the second consecutive season, and earning her third all-conference citation overall after copping second-team plaudits in 2009-10. Senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) and fifth-year senior forward/tri-captain Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) once again joined Diggins on the All-BIG EAST First Team, reprising the accolades they earned last season. It was the second time in as many days that same Fighting Irish trio collected significant honors, with all three players also appearing on the Naismith Trophy Midseason 32 List, recognizing the top 32 contenders for that national player of the year honor, presented annually by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.
Prior to 2010-11, the Notre Dame women's basketball program had never had three players garner 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 second school ever to have multiple seasons with three first-team all-BIG EAST players, something only Connecticut (2001-02, 2007-08 and 2009-10) has managed to duplicate since the BIG EAST began women's basketball competition in 1982-83.
Peters added another individual honor to her trophy case on Thursday, as she was named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. She is the first repeat selection for the award since Rutgers' Essence Carson received it three consecutive seasons from 2006-08, and Peters is just the fourth player to earn that award more than once -- Notre Dame's Ruth Riley claimed the prize for three consecutive seasons from 1999-2001, while Connecticut's Nykesha Sales was chosen as the recipient in the award's first two years of existence (1997-98).
This year's trio of first-team selections represents the ninth consecutive year, and 15th time in Notre Dame's 17-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 25 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 22 times (all but 1993, 1998 and 2003).
This also marks the fourth time in five seasons, and the sixth time in program history, that Notre Dame has fielded three all-conference selections in the same year. Prior to last season, Lindsay Schrader was a first-team honoree, while Diggins and Ashley Barlow appeared on the second team in 2010. Two years earlier, 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.
A midseason candidate for both the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) Player of the Year and Wooden Award (in addition to the aforementioned Naismith Trophy), as well as a prime contender for the State Farm Wade Trophy (which also goes to the nation's top women's college basketball player) and one of eight final nominees for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard, Diggins is the only BIG EAST player to rank among the top five in the conference in three of the five major statistical categories. She leads the BIG EAST in both assists (5.8 apg.) and steals (2.6 spg.), and is fourth in scoring (17.4 ppg.), in addition to posting a conference-best 2.26 assist-to-turnover ratio, and ranking among the top 10 in the league in free throw percentage (eighth - .802) and field goal percentage (ninth - .525). She also wrapped up the BIG EAST regular season statistical titles in assists (5.8 apg. - second ND player to win BIG EAST assist title, first since Niele Ivey in 1999-2000), steals (2.6 spg.) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3), and finished league play among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (third - 17.8 ppg.), field goal percentage (ninth - .508) and free throw percentage (12th - .788).
Like Diggins, Novosel is a candidate for every major national player of the year award this season, and was named one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which is presented annually to the nation's top senior based on her dedication and achievement in four areas: Classroom, Character, Community and Competition (fans may vote daily for Novosel through March 18 by going on-line to www.seniorclassaward.com). Novosel also was tabbed as the BIG EAST Player of the Week on Dec. 19, and made the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on Jan. 16, in addition to garnering Most Valuable Player honors at the Junkanoo Jam and a spot on the Preseason WNIT All-Tournament Team.
The 5-foot-11 guard has started all 30 games, ranking eighth in the BIG EAST in scoring (15.1 ppg.), second in three-point percentage (career-high .429) and fifth in free throw percentage (career-high .832). She has scored in double figures 25 times, second-most on the team, and has posted nine 20-point games this year, including a career-high 32 points against USF on Feb. 25 (Senior Day) at Purcell Pavilion.
Peters is one of only two BIG EAST players (along with Marquette's Sarina Simmons) to rank among the top 15 in the conference in the three major defensive statistical categories -- rebounding (2nd at a career-high 9.5 rpg.), blocked shots (4th at 1.7 bpg.) and steals (tied-12th at 2.1 spg.).
Peters also is averaging a career-high 12.2 points per game (good for 22nd in the BIG EAST), a team-high nine double-doubles (tied-2nd) and a .558 field goal percentage (5th; also 7th in nation). What's more, the 6-foot-2 forward has tied a pair of longstanding school records with seven 15-rebound games and four games of 15 points/15 rebounds, with both marks originally set by Jane Politiski in 1977-78, Notre Dame's first season of varsity competition when the Fighting Irish played at the AIAW Division III level.
During BIG EAST play, Peters led the conference in rebounding (10.9 rpg.), becoming the first Notre Dame player to win the BIG EAST regular season rebounding title since 2000-01 (Riley). She led the conference in offensive rebounds (4.0 orpg.), tied for the league lead with five double-doubles (missing three others by two points or fewer), and also ranked third in blocked shots (2.3 bpg.), sixth in field goal percentage (.555) and tied for 15th in steals (1.9 spg.).
Honors have been plentiful this season for Peters, who joined Diggins and Novosel on the USBWA Midseason Player of the Year List as well as the Naismith Trophy Midseason 32 and the State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List. Peters also was the BIG EAST Player of the Week on Jan. 23, and twice earned a spot on the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll (Jan. 30, Feb. 20).
Also on Thursday, the USBWA unveiled its top 10 candidates for this year's USBWA National Coach of the Year, with McGraw among those top 10 coaches listed. A 2011 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and consensus National Coach of the Year in 2001, McGraw has led Notre Dame to new heights this season, with the Fighting Irish not only earning their first outright BIG EAST regular season title, but also setting a school record with 28 regular season wins and 10 victories over Top 25 opponents. What's more, McGraw has piloted Notre Dame to the nation's highest-scoring offense (81.0 ppg.), one of 11 NCAA statistical categories in which the Fighting Irish rank among the top 20, and Notre Dame has been ranked among the top four teams in the nation all season by both major national polls.
Off the court, the Fighting Irish have been a sensation at the box office (school-record 8,811 fans per game and eight sellouts while ranking fifth in the nation in attendance) and in the community (raising more than $300,000 in donations for various charitable causes this season, including more than $204,000 for the Pink Zone/Play4Kay national breast cancer initiative, through their groundbreaking "Heart of the Irish" community outreach program).
Ranked No. 3 in the latest Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls, Notre Dame (28-2, 15-1 BIG EAST) is the top seed for the BIG EAST Championship and has earned a bye through the first two rounds of the tournament. Notre Dame will open play with a quarterfinal game at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday against either No. 8 seed DePaul, No. 9 seed USF or No. 16 Pittsburgh at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., with ESPNU to televise the game live to a national cable audience. The Fighting Irish quarterfinal game 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 (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
2011-12 Notre Dame Women's Basketball -- BIG EAST Award Recipients
All-BIG EAST First Team (unanimous) -- Skylar Diggins (Jr., G, South Bend, Ind./Washington)
All-BIG EAST First Team -- Natalie Novosel (Sr., G, Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic)
Defensive Player of the Year/All-BIG EAST First Team -- Devereaux Peters (5th-Year Sr., F, Chicago, Ill./Fenwick)