March 8, 2013
HARTFORD, Conn. - The 2012-13 BIG EAST Conference women's basketball awards press conference has a distinct Notre Dame flavor to it, as the Fighting Irish swept the three major individual honors that were announced Friday afternoon at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., site of this year's BIG EAST Championship.
For the second consecutive season, senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was selected as the BIG EAST Player of the Year. She was joined on the BIG EAST awards dais by freshman guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), who was named the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, and head coach Muffet McGraw, who took home Coach of the Year honors.
All three award recipients were chosen for their respective honors through a vote of the league's head coaches, who were not allowed to select their own players. This marks just the second time since the BIG EAST began sponsoring women's basketball in 1982-83 that a school other than Connecticut swept the conference's top three individual awards -- in that inaugural '82-83 season, St. John's had all three honorees (Player of the Year Debbie Beckford, Freshman of the Year Ann Marie McNamee and Coach of the Year Don Perrelli).
Diggins is the first Notre Dame player to be BIG EAST Player of the Year twice (first in any conference since Karen Robinson won consecutive Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League honors in 1990 and 1991), and one of three Fighting Irish players to earn the award, following the path blazed in 2001 by consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley and 2005 recipient Jacqueline Batteast. Diggins also is the first player from a school other than Connecticut to be chosen as BIG EAST Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons since 1985-87, when Villanova's Shelly Pennefather became the only other non-Husky to take home the award in consecutive years.
Meanwhile, Loyd is the third Notre Dame player to be selected as BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, and the first since Batteast in 2002 (the other was Alicia Ratay in 2000). Both Diggins and Loyd earned all-conference recognition on Thursday, with Diggins a unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST pick for the third consecutive season, while Loyd was an honorable mention all-league choice, as well as a unanimous selection to the BIG EAST All-Freshman Team.
McGraw now is the two-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year, having previously earned the honor in 2001. What's more, she is a five-time conference Coach of the Year, also garnering recognition from the East Coast Conference (1983 - when she coached at Lehigh), North Star Conference (1988) and the Midwestern Collegiate Conference/Horizon League (1991).
One of seven final nominees to repeat as the Nancy Lieberman Award recipient (honoring the nation's top point guard) and a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, as well as a midseason candidate for the State Farm Wade Trophy, Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award (all going to the national player of the year), Diggins has started all 29 games this season and leads the BIG EAST in assists (5.9 apg.), while ranking third in scoring (17.3 ppg.), steals (3.0 spg.) and free throw percentage (.818). She also is among the conference's best in assist/turnover ratio (6th - 1.68) and three-point percentage (7th - .344), and she leads the team with 25 double-figure scoring games (giving her 113 for her career, two off the Notre Dame record set by current Fighting Irish associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham from 1993-97).
Diggins was a three-time BIG EAST Player of the Week and a five-time BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll selection this season, as well as taking home Most Valuable Player honors at the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas after leading Notre Dame to a three-game sweep and the tournament title.
Loyd has appeared in 28 games for the Fighting Irish this season (starting 27 times), scoring in double figures 17 times and collecting her first career double-double on Jan. 8 at South Florida (18 points/13 rebounds).
Loyd currently ranks among the BIG EAST leaders in scoring (26th - 11.7 ppg.) and free throw percentage (tied-5th - .810), and would be tied for third in the conference in three-point percentage (.393), but she is short of the minimum needed for qualification (1.0 3FGM/game).
She also led all conference rookies this season as a four-time BIG EAST Freshman of the Week selection, most recently copping the honor on Feb. 25 after scoring a game-high 19 points in an 84-56 victory at DePaul on Feb. 24.
Loyd first opened eyes on the national scene with a season- (and game-) high 24 points and team-best seven rebounds in a 73-61 loss to third-ranked Baylor on Dec. 5 at Purcell Pavilion. The 5-foot-10 guard connected on her first four three-point attempts of the evening (finishing 4-of-5 from beyond the arc) on the way to notching the most points by a Fighting Irish rookie against a ranked opponent since Jan. 26, 2002, when Batteast scored 26 points in Notre Dame's 64-57 win over No. 16/17 Virginia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.
What's more, Loyd also scored the most points by a Notre Dame freshman against an opponent ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll since Feb. 19, 2000, when Ratay netted 26 points (including a school-record 7-for-7 three-pointers) in a 78-74 overtime win at No. 8/11 Rutgers.
Despite seeing her team lose four key seniors (who accounted for 40 percent of the team's scoring and rebounding), including three starters, from last year's squad that advanced to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season, McGraw has skillfully led the Fighting Irish to even greater heights this year, punctuated by their second consecutive outright BIG EAST regular season title and a perfect 16-0 record in conference play for just the second time in school history (first since 1989-90, when Notre Dame was part of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference).
What's more, under McGraw's guidance, the Fighting Irish are in the midst of a school record-tying 23-game winning streak, are 9-1 against ranked opponents this season (including a 4-1 record against top-10 teams) and have significantly raised their scoring production (78.9 ppg. to 81.1 ppg.) and rebounding margin (+8.5 rpg. to +11.6 rpg.) from a year ago.
No. 2 Notre Dame (28-1, 16-0 BIG EAST) is the top seed for the 2013 BIG EAST Championship and has earned a double-bye into the quarterfinal round, where it will play its first game at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., against the winner of the second-round game between eighth-seeded South Florida and No. 9 seed Rutgers. Notre Dame's quarterfinal contest will be televised live to a national cable audience by ESPNU, as well as worldwide on the WatchESPN platform. It also can be heard live in the South Bend area on Pulse FM (96.9/92.1) and free of charge worldwide at UND.com.
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