Aug. 26, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the second time in a week, the Notre Dame women's basketball program saw one of its own earn a gold medal with a USA Basketball Team in an international tournament, as senior All-America guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) helped pace the United States to a perfect 9-0 record and top honors at the inaugural FIBA 3x3 World Championship that concluded Sunday in Athens, Greece. Diggins and Team USA earned the title the hard way, coming from behind in their final two games to defeat Australia (19-18) and France (17-16) and secure their place in history.
It's the fifth time Diggins (who had five points in the title game against France) has won a gold medal while participating with USA Basketball, and the fourth time she has done so in international play. Her remarkable gold rush began domestically at the 2007 Youth Development Festival in Colorado Springs, followed by four golds in five years on the world stage -- 2008 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship, 2011 World University Games and 2012 FIBA 3x3 World Championship.
"No, it never gets old ever," Diggins said. "This is one of the most memorable because it was the first time ever. We've all been talking about this. In 100 years, when they're doing this in the Olympics, when we're old, we can tell our kids that we were in the first one. When it's added to the Olympics and things like that."
Playing with two familiar faces in former USA Basketball teammates Bria Hartley (Connecticut) and Chiney Ogwumike (Stanford), as well as former Connecticut guard Ann Strother, Diggins helped the United States dominate the first three days of competition at the tournament, winning their first seven games by reaching the 21-point mark before the maximum 10 minutes of game time had expired. International 3x3 rules call for scoring by ones and twos (as opposed to two- and three-point baskets in conventional 5x5 play), and also mandates a 12-second shot clock, making for faster-paced action.
The Americans' final two games both were nail-biting affairs. In the semifinal against undefeated Australia, the United States fell behind 7-6, but came back to win, 19-18. The situation was even more dire in the gold medal game against another unbeaten squad in France, as Team USA trailed by a 7-2 margin before turning the tables on the Europeans with an 8-2 run of its own. France regained a 13-10 advantage, but Diggins ignited a 5-0 United States run with a free throw and later added a layup and key steal as the Americans never trailed again. Still, there was a heartstopping moment late in the contest, as Hartley was called for an intentional foul with two seconds left and the USA leading 17-15. After France made its free throw and retained possession, Diggins and Hartley swarmed the French guards and didn't allow a clean look at the basket as the horn sounded.
"Absolutely (the win is much sweeter), because with women's basketball, we're known to dominate, and I don't think they thought we were going to dominate this time," Diggins said. "I think the title is more for countries that traditionally aren't as good as other countries in five-on-five. We had a chip on our shoulder coming out; we wanted everyone to represent. For the first time, the Americans were kind of the underdogs to France, I felt like. We were sitting by the pool and this guy didn't know we were sitting there and he was like, `France is going to win.' We're used to being the favorites, and we always work hard, but this was a little different. We had a closer game and we weren't able to dominate as much as we do in five-on-five."
While complete individual statistics were not kept during the tournament, Diggins unofficially had eight points each in televised preliminary round wins over Angola and Argentina. In both games, the veteran Fighting Irish point guard knocked down "walk-off" two-point baskets to clinch American victories.
Diggins also picked up a silver medal on Sunday, finishing second in the individual skills competition at the FIBA 3x3 World Championship. She was the top qualifier in the event, but bobbled slightly in the final when a dribble went off her foot and she had to settle for runner-up honors.
Diggins' latest gold medal victory comes exactly one week after Notre Dame freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) helped the United States to a 5-0 record and the title at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
What's more, Diggins' jewelry is the eighth gold medal for Notre Dame since 2008, as well as the 12th gold and 19th medal in program history. Prior to this summer, Diggins, along with 2011-12 tri-captains and 2012 WNBA first-round draft picks Natalie Novosel ('12) and Devereaux Peters ('11) were the last Fighting Irish gold medalists, leading the United States to a 6-0 record and the gold medal at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China -- both Novosel and Peters struck gold for the first time in their careers.
Diggins' gold medal also marks the eighth consecutive time at least one Fighting Irish women's basketball player (alumna, current player or incoming freshman) suited up for a USA Basketball team at an international tournament and came home with the gold medal, a remarkable run of excellence that dates back to 2004 when Ruth Riley ('01) was a member of the 2004 Senior Women's National Team that won gold at the Olympic Games, also in Athens, Greece.
The summer of 2012 was a tremendous success on the international stage for Notre Dame women's basketball. In addition to the gold medals earned by Diggins and Mabrey, junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) helped Canada earn its first Olympic berth since 2000 -- becoming the second Notre Dame player to compete in the Games after Riley in 2004 -- and Achonwa then paced Canada to its first Olympic quarterfinal appearance in 28 years, averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as the second-youngest women's basketball player competing at the London Games.
This fall, Diggins, Mabrey and Achonwa will be part of an 11-player Notre Dame squad that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that includes Mabrey and was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.
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