Aug. 21, 2011
SHENZHEN, China -- Aided by a combined 32 points from three Notre Dame players, including 19 points from Fighting Irish junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington), the United States easily claimed the gold medal at the 2011 World University Games with a 101-66 win over Taiwan in the tournament final on Sunday night at the Universiade Main Gym in Shenzhen, China.
Diggins connected on 6-of-9 shots (including 3-of-4 from three-point range) and added six assists for the United States (6-0). Notre Dame fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) registered eight points and six rebounds, while senior guard Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) chipped in five points while starting alongside Diggins for the sixth consecutive game.
Sunday's win marks the first time three Notre Dame women's basketball players have won gold medals for the same USA Basketball Team in the same tournament. It also gives the Fighting Irish 10 international gold medalists in the program's 35-year history, with Diggins collecting her third gold in four years (also the 2008 FIBA Under-18 Americas Championship and 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship), and Novosel and Peters picking up their first gold medals in international competition.
What's more, this is the sixth consecutive time that a Notre Dame women's basketball player (either an alum, current player or incoming freshman) has suited up for a USA Basketball team at an international tournament and come home with the gold medal, a remarkable run of excellence that dates back to 2004 when Ruth Riley ('01) struck gold with the U.S. Olympic Team at the Athens Games.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike led the Americans in Sunday's victory over Taiwan with 24 points, while Elena Delle Donne added 18 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. As a team, the United States shot an exceptional 58.3 percent from the field (42-of-72), including a sharp 7-of-14 from the three-point line. Not surprisingly, Team USA dominated the smaller Taiwanese squad (which had no player taller than 6-foot-1) in the paint, outscoring the Asian side, 62-22, and owning a massive 52-18 rebounding edge. What's more, the Americans tied a USA Basketball World University Games record with 27 assists, a mark first set against South Africa in 2005 (when the Stars & Stripes were led by starting point guard and Notre Dame All-American Megan Duffy ('06)).
The United States finished the six-game tournament by setting new USA Basketball World University Games records for scoring margin (+45.0 points per game; previous was +43.1 ppg. in 2005) and average rebounds per game (56.5 rpg.; previous was 48.4 rpg. in 2009). The Americans also posted their second-best scoring average ever at the World University Games, and best in 20 years (97.8 points per game; the record is 105.0 ppg. by the 1991 squad that included Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie, Dawn Staley and Ruthie Bolton), as well as their second-best defensive scoring average at the tournament, and best in 38 years (52.8 ppg.; the record is 48.0 ppg. set by the inaugural 1973 team).
Individually, Diggins averaged 12.3 ppg. at this year's World University Games, while also leading all tournament players (regardless of country) in assists (4.8 apg.) and ranking among the top 10 at the event in steals (third with team-high 3.3 spg.) and field goal percentage (10th at .475). In fact, Diggins narrowly missed breaking two longstanding USA Basketball World University Games records, with her 20 steals ranking third all-time behind the 21 thefts collected in 1987 by Alisa Scott and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer/1988 Wade Trophy recipient Teresa Weatherspoon. Diggins' 29 assists also are third-most by a USA Basketball player at the World University Games, one off the record shared by Kamie Ethridge (1985) and Suzie McConnell (1987) -- coincidentally, McConnell (now McConnell-Serio) was an assistant coach for Team USA this year.
Peters also had an impressive showing at the World University Games as the leading American scorer off the bench (and fourth overall) with 10.0 points per game. She also was fourth on the team in rebounding (5.3 rpg.), and ranked among the top 10 in the entire tournament in field goal percentage (fifth at .560, second-best on team) and blocked shots (ninth with team-high 1.0 bpg.).
Novosel was one of the "glue" players for the United States, starting all six games in her international debut and doing a bit of everything, winding up with 4.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game, the latter total ranking fourth on the team.
"To our kids' credit, we added an offense on our off day because we knew we had a size advantage," said Bill Fennelly, United States head coach (as well as the skipper at Iowa State University and a former assistant at Notre Dame). "We just wanted to pound it at them and we did. The kids were unselfish. We kept throwing it on the block and got a lot of easy baskets."
"It's an amazing feeling, and this is the first time I got emotional up there (on the medal stand), with my teammates being up there and just the fact that these games were such a big deal to this team," Diggins said. "I mean, (it's a big deal) every time, but the fact that I haven't done it in a while and that I'm back here, it's a blessing and the biggest honor. To be up there with my (Notre Dame) teammates, with somebody that I'm familiar with, being a bridesmaid in the NCAA Championship, it's good to be the bride in this game. So, I'm glad that we were able to share that moment together."
"It was just pure giddiness for me (to receive the gold medal)," Novosel added. "It was surreal. As soon as they (put the gold medal around my neck), I was just utterly grateful. I can't imagine what it would have been like without (my two Notre Dame teammates) and to be able to share it with them was a moment I'll never forget."
"This is just one of those things that you can't explain, you have to experience it to understand," Peters said. "I'm really excited and happy I could do it with my (Notre Dame) teammates. It's a crazy feeling to be able to experience that gold medal being put over your head. It's that much more special because all these knee problems (I've had) have been ridiculous, and to be able to come over here and not only play, but win, it's like going from the lowest low to the highest high."
After a pair of lead changes and two knotted scores early, with 5:53 to play in the first quarter the score was tied at 14-all. Peters took a feed inside from Delle Donne that put the USA on top for good, 16-14, at 4:49. The Peters bucket was the start of a mini 7-3 run by the U.S. that ended with an Ogwumike three-point play, and with 1:52 to play in the period the American women were on top 23-17. Holding a five-point, 26-21, lead near the end of the quarter, the USA closed out the stanza up 29-21after Jacki Gemelos sank a three-pointer.
Taiwan quickly cut the gap back to six points, but the U.S. strung together a 9-0 run and began to pull away, 40-25, with 7:05 left in the half. Taiwan briefly countered each American bucket and cut the gap back down to 11 points, 46-35, at the 3:38 mark. However, a three from Diggins sparked another streak of nine unanswered points that stretched the advantage to 20 points, 55-35. Taiwan got the first half's final points, one of its eight three-pointers on the night, and the first half ended with the American women holding a commanding 55-38 upper hand.
Taiwan managed to cut it again to 15 points early in the second half, 57-42, but that was as close as it would get for the remainder of the contest. The USA's depth and size were just too much for the Asian side as it put together a 12-0 string to put the game well out of reach, 69-42, with 5:06 left in the quarter. By the end of the third period, the Stars and Stripes owned a 75-54 lead.
Taiwan nailed a three to start the fourth period, but Diggins answered with back-to-back three-pointers. Taiwan came back with another trey when Delle Donne hit the second of her threes on the night, spurring another a 12-0 run in which six different players scored, and suddenly it was a 33-point game, 93-60, with 4:08 still to play.
While the Taiwanese continued to play hard through the remainder of the game, they were just no match for the depth and strength of the gold medal winners.
Taiwan's Yuchun Chen shot 3-of-6 from three-point land and finished with a team-best 21 points, while Pinjen Huang was her team's only other double-digit scorer with 11 points.
This marks the third straight gold as a team for Fennelly, Diggins and Ogwumike, who were all also members of the 2008 USA U18 National Team and 2009 USA U19 World Championship Team.
"It's just amazing," Fennelly reflected. "Nneka and Sky have been through a lot. This is the third time I've had them, twice as an assistant and now as a head coach. They are great players, but they are even better people. I think they were the true leaders of our team. Everyone knew it from the beginning. They followed what we asked them to do, and their experience really paid off and showed the other kids what the international game is all about -- the travel and how you just have to fight through it day-by-day. At the end of the day, they have another gold medal and they deserve it."
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 is comprised of U.S. citizens who are currently enrolled in college and have remaining eligibility.
Including this year, USA Basketball women's teams now have participated in 16 World University Games and collected a record eight 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 a 95-15 (.864) overall record in the tournament, including an active 26-game winning streak dating back to 2001.
Notre Dame women's basketball players have suited up for Team USA in four World University Games, with the Americans going a combined 20-2 (.909) with three gold medals (Beth Morgan - 1997; Duffy - 2005; Diggins/Novosel/Peters - 2011) and one silver medal (Riley - 1999) in that time.
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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