May 25, 2011
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
It was a historic day for the Notre Dame women's basketball team, as three Fighting Irish players were among 14 finalists for the 2011 United States World University Games Team, it was announced Wednesday by USA Basketball. 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) combine to give Notre Dame not only more finalists than any school in the country, but also the most finalists for one USA Basketball team in the 35-year history of the Fighting Irish women's basketball program.
The Notre Dame All-American trio earned their spots as finalists for the USA World University Games Team following three days of grueling trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC). The trials, which featured 35 of the nation's top collegiate players, were administered by the USA Basketball Women's Junior National Team Committee, chaired by Sue Donohoe, the NCAA's vice president for Division I women's basketball.
The 14 remaining finalists will return to Colorado Springs July 31 to resume training, with the final 12-player United States roster selected before the team leaves for the World University Games on Aug. 8 in Shenzhen, China. The 16-team competition will take place from Aug. 14-21, with Team USA 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.
"It could probably go without saying, but this is definitely a groundbreaking accomplishment for Notre Dame women's basketball," head coach Muffet McGraw said. "For all three of these players to go into a highly-charged, highly-competitive environment like the USA Basketball trials and come out standing tall in the end speaks volumes about their work ethic, dedication, character and mental toughness.
"Skylar is familiar with that level of competition from having been on several USA Basketball teams in the past, and it was a thrill to see her rise to the challenge once again," McGraw continued. "As for Natalie and Devereaux, those two were going into those trials for the first time and, while they may not have entirely known what to expect before they got to Colorado Springs, once they stepped on the floor, they showed that they were more than capable of competing on the international stage. We are absolutely thrilled for all three players and we're looking forward to seeing what is in store for them when they return to practice with the USA World University Games Team at the end of July."
"It's amazing," Diggins said. "We all stayed after school and worked out together and did the extra conditioning and put in all the work, really pushed each other. So to all make the team, that really paid off. You have to thank the coaching staff and the strength and conditioning coaches for staying and putting in extra work with us. It's an exciting accomplishment and it will be even more amazing if we all get to go and win that gold medal together and be able to share that experience with people you're familiar with."
"To work so hard all year, and then to be rewarded by even being invited was exciting," Novosel added. "Then, to come here along with my teammates and be named a finalist, it's really a dream come true."
"It feels great," Peters noted. "I'm just going to do what I do at Notre Dame - rebound and try to be as much of a team player as possible. Helping out on defense is really what I do best, so hopefully I am able to do that and make the team."
Along with the three Notre Dame selections, the BIG EAST Conference had two other players chosen as USA World University Games Team finalists -- DePaul's Keisha Hampton and Rutgers' April Sykes. Collectively, the five-player BIG EAST contingent (not counting assistant coach Williams-Flournoy) is easily the largest from one conference on the 14-player finalist 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 finalists chosen, as Stanford's Chiney and Nnemkadi Ogwumike joined Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen of Southeastern Conference member Tennessee as remaining contenders for a place on the United States World University Games Team.
Should any of the Notre Dame players be selected for the final 12-member USA World University Games Team, they would join a group of eight Notre Dame women's basketball players (including six in the previous seven years) that have competed on the international level. Most recently, current Fighting Irish rising sophomore guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) started all five games for the gold medal-winning 2010 USA Women's U18 Americas Championship Team, while current Notre Dame rising sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) suited up for Canada's Junior and Senior National Teams last summer and fall, including helping the Canadian Senior National Team to a 12th-place finish at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in the Czech Republic.
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 -- Katryna 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 Beth 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 six finalists for 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, 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), Megan Duffy, who claimed a gold medal as a co-captain and starter for the 2005 USA World University Games Team (the last time a Notre Dame player suited up for that squad), and Ruth Riley, who was a member of the 2004 Women's Senior National Team that won gold at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Riley also made prior USA Basketball appearances in 1998 (Select Team) and 1999 (World University Games Team), while two other former Fighting Irish All-Americans -- Gaither (two teams, two medals) and Morgan (four teams, three medals) -- also have suited up for Team USA. All told, Notre Dame players have earned 14 medals in international competition, including seven gold medals.
Besides those already named, the remaining finalists for this year's World University Games Team are: Elena Delle Donne (Delaware), Jacki Gemelos (USC), Shenise Johnson (Miami-Fla.), Lynetta Kizer (Maryland) and Odyssey Sims (Baylor).
"I thought the (USA Basketball Junior National Team) Committee did a great job," Fennelly said. "When you have 35 extremely talented kids, as coaches we were like, `wow, this is a tough job,' but I thought they did a great job. It's a good balance of players. All of them can bring a lot to this team and we can put together a really, really good club that will give us a chance to win a gold medal."
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.
"It's going to be tough," Diggins said. "Like Coach (Fennelly) said, we have such a short amount of time to do so many things so everyone has to buy in and be focused when we come back here to practice. We've got to hold each other accountable and really make sure that we are focusing on the things we need to get done. We have to come in with a lot of energy and intensity every day and when we go to China, we have to be great ... we have to be competitive. Everyone wants to beat the USA -- we have the biggest target on our backs and we have to make sure we handle that with a lot of poise and composure and really just play USA basketball."
Additional quotes, photos and other information on the USA Basketball World University Games Team can be found at www.usabasketball.com.
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-- ND --