Oct. 18, 2012
NEW YORK - Following its second BIG EAST Conference regular-season title (and first outright championship) in 2011-12, Notre Dame has been selected as the No. 2 team in the annual BIG EAST preseason women's basketball poll, according to a vote of the league's 15 head coaches released Thursday morning during the 2012-13 BIG EAST Women's Basketball Media Day at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.
In addition, Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) was chosen as the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Fighting Irish player to receive that accolade more than once. A year ago, Diggins followed up her preseason selection by earning BIG EAST Player of the Year honors at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
Diggins also was a unanimous choice for the preseason all-conference team for the third consecutive year. What's more, she already has been named to the State Farm Wade Trophy Watch List, and is a prime candidate for all other major national honors in 2012-13.
Connecticut was selected as the preseason BIG EAST favorite by the conference coaches, earning 194 total points, including 12 of a possible 15 first-place votes. Notre Dame was second, collecting 182 points along with the remaining three first-place votes. Louisville (167 points), St. John's (144 points) and Rutgers (143 points) rounded out the top five in the BIG EAST Preseason Coaches Poll, with league skippers not allowed to vote for their own teams or players.
Notre Dame has two starters and eight veterans returning in 2012-13, joined by a three-player freshman class that has been ranked as high as third in the country by some media outlets. The Fighting Irish are coming off a 35-4 season that saw them advance to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive year (and third time in school history) and reach the NCAA Women's Final Four for the fourth time. Notre Dame ended the season ranked No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll (taken after the NCAA Championship) and No. 4 in the Associated Press poll (taken before the NCAA Championship).
"It's a credit to the consistent success our program has achieved over time that we were picked second in the BIG EAST preseason poll," Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "Certainly, the BIG EAST is among the nation's toughest women's basketball conferences, and the challenges are going to be there every single night. We have a strong core group of players who understand what it means to compete in the BIG EAST against some of the best players and programs in the nation, and it will be up to them to help show our younger players the way as we move along during the 2012-13 season."
"We're very appreciative of the conference coaches for choosing us to finish second in the BIG EAST this year," Diggins said. "Of course, that's not our ultimate goal and we'll be working hard every day to go out and defend the BIG EAST regular-season championship we won last year. Personally, I'm grateful for all of the BIG EAST coaches who chose to vote for me as the BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year. There's a lot of basketball to be played, and a lot of talented players in our conference, and I join my teammates in looking forward to the challenge of another great BIG EAST season in 2012-13."
Last season, Diggins was a consensus first-team All-America selection (including her spot on the State Farm Coaches All-America Team, as selected by the WBCA), and she was a finalist for every major national player-of-the-year award, taking home the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard. She also was chosen as the BIG EAST Player of the Year (the third Notre Dame player to be so honored and the first since 2005) and is a two-time unanimous first-team all-conference selection.
A year ago, Diggins became the first Fighting Irish player and just the fourth NCAA Division I player in the past decade (since 2001-02) to register 600 points, 200 assists and 100 steals in a single season. In fact, she set a school record with 102 steals, while her 222 assists were third-most on the Notre Dame single-season list, and her 657 points ranked fourth on the school's single-season chart. In addition, she posted the second-best assist-turnover ratio (2.16) by a Fighting Irish player in one season, and her four double-doubles tied for fourth-most by a Notre Dame guard in a single season.
That doesn't include the triple-double (22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) she registered on March 27, 2012, in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final victory over No. 5 Maryland, just the third triple-double in program history and the first in 22 years. It also was the first recorded by a BIG EAST player in the NCAA Championship, not to mention being only the second triple-double posted by any player in a regional final game (it's never happened in a Final Four contest), and the first since Hall of Fame center Anne Donovan did so for Old Dominion in 1983.
In 2011-12, Diggins was the only BIG EAST player to rank among the top five in the conference in three of the five major statistical categories. She led the conference in both assists (5.7 apg. - 16th in nation) and steals (2.6 spg. - 55th in nation; school-record 102 steals overall), and she was fourth in scoring (16.8 ppg. - 70th in nation), while also posting her conference-best 2.16 assist-turnover ratio (10th in nation). What's more, she ranked among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in free throw percentage (9th - .786) and field goal percentage (tied-10th - .500; 35th in nation).
Diggins also wrapped up the 2011-12 BIG EAST regular season statistical titles in assists (5.8 apg. - the second Notre Dame player to win the BIG EAST assist title, and first since current Fighting Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey in 1999-2000), steals (2.6 spg.), and assist-turnover ratio (2.3). She finished conference play among the top 15 in the BIG EAST in scoring (3rd - 17.8 ppg.), field goal percentage (9th - .508) and free throw percentage (12th - .788).
Besides her seasonal awards, Diggins was chosen as the NCAA Raleigh Regional Most Outstanding Player and was a member of the NCAA Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team, becoming the first Notre Dame cager to be selected for either honor twice in her career (she was the 2011 NCAA Dayton Regional MOP before making the Final Four squad).
In her career, Diggins already ranks among the top 10 on nine Fighting Irish statistical charts -- scoring average (4th - 15.3 ppg.), 20-point games (4th - 33), free throws made (4th - 414), free throws attempted (5th - 541), points (6th - 1,726), assists (6th - 520), steals (6th - 267), double-figure scoring games (6th - 88), double-doubles by a guard (6th - 6) and games started (9th - 107).
Diggins enters her senior season needing 74 rebounds to become the first player in school history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists in her career. She also is 274 points away from becoming the fourth 2,000-point scorer in school history, and she needs 596 points to catch current Notre Dame associate coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham as the program's all-time leading scorer. In addition, Diggins is 81 steals away from Ivey's school record for career thefts, and Diggins even has an outside shot at the Fighting Irish all-time record for assists held by Mary Gavin, needing 258 helpers to reach the mark (Ivey is second, 207 ahead of Diggins).
Notre Dame will open its 2012-13 season with an exhibition game at 7 p.m. (ET) Nov. 1 against Edinboro at Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish tip off their regular season slate at 4 p.m. (ET) Nov. 9, taking on Ohio State in the second annual Carrier Classic, aboard the USS Yorktown at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum near Charleston, S.C. The Carrier Classic will be televised live to a national cable audience by NBC Sports Network, an update from earlier announcements that had indicated the broadcast would air on a delayed basis.
Single-game tickets are on sale for all home games during the 2012-13 Notre Dame women's basketball season, starting at $8 for adults and $5 for youths (21 and younger) and seniors (55 and older), with slightly higher prices for adult tickets ($12) for the Dec. 5 Baylor and March 4 Connecticut games. For details or to make a purchase, call (574) 631-7356, visit the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET Monday-Friday), or go on-line 24 hours a day to the official Fighting Irish athletics ticketing web site, UND.com/tickets.
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 @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.