Irish darling Diggins' season ends in sorrow, but she will be back
INDIANAPOLIS -- The buzzer sounded, the game was lost, and Skylar Diggins was gone. Into the tunnel the Notre Dame star went, about as fast as she sped down the court the last four days at Conseco Fieldhouse. Until the final moments of Texas A&M's 76-70 win Tuesday night, the week had belonged to the sophomore from South Bend.
There was the scintillating 28-point performance against UConn in the semifinal upset, the Twitter shoutouts from rapper Lil Wayne and pop star Chris Brown and the prospect of leading Notre Dame to a championship in the state the former Miss Indiana Basketball owned as a high school prodigy. Searches for her name on Yahoo! spiked 2,700 percent on Sunday and went up another 17 percent the following day, according to the site's college basketball blogger, Jeff Eisenberg. The press could not get enough of her and she obliged with fantastic sound bites.
"Barack you didn't put us in your bracket," she said, chiding President Obama. She pledged to ask him about it when she saw him.
The Oval Office meeting will have to wait. Diggins has everything to be the game's next major star: a gorgeous floor game, oodles of charisma, intelligence and a world-class smile. Now we'll learn if she can respond from the toughest loss of her basketball life.
"I think it's going to be a while for her to get that perspective," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "She's extremely hard on herself. ... You lose that last game, and you just get motivated to come back and work a little bit harder and make sure it doesn't happen again. She had a great tournament. But obviously there are some things that she would like to change at the end."
Diggins had four 20-point games during the NCAAs, including her three final games of the tournament. Her 51 points tied for the sixth-most combined points in a single Final Four. She scored 23 points on 7-of-19 shooting against Texas A&M and had four steals and three rebounds. Most impressively, she willed her team from behind throughout the night. Her jumper with 3:56 left tied the game at 66 -- the sixth tie -- before Tyra White's heroics sealed it for the Aggies. But in the closing minutes, Diggins played more like a sophomore than an All-America.
She lost the ball after getting double-teamed near the free-throw line and missed a jumper that would have kept it a one possession game. Her six turnovers were the most of any player on the court.
"We just didn't handle the pressure," said Diggins, tears in her eyes after the game. "We turned it over too much. I don't know if it was nerves or what. But we didn't handle the ball and didn't execute on offense. They're a great team. They're a good defensive team. One of the best in the country, and we did a poor job handling it."
Diggins left the court as the buzzer sounded ("They're celebrating and things like that; I wanted to get off for my team and get ready to talk to everybody," she said) so she did not join her teammates in the postgame handshake. It was the sign of an immature and selfish player, which is exactly the opposite of how she played this season. Diggins spoke thoughtfully at the Final Four about the challenge of shifting from shooting guard as a freshman to running the team from the point this season.
"I had to know every play and where everybody was supposed to be on the court in order to direct and conduct," she said. "Last year Lech [point guard Melissa Lechlitner] was there. If I was out of position, she would just say, 'Go there.' Now I had to know what it looks like when I am looking everybody. I had to get to know every one of my teammates. Who likes to score where? Who wants the ball where? And my relationship with Coach McGraw had to get better, too. It was like, 'Coach, If we're in an A-B-C situation, what do you want me to do?' It was a lot more work goes into it than I thought.
"Obviously she was on the Naismith (preseason Player of the Year list) and the other lists that were circulated," McGraw said. "But I think she really gave herself a big shot of credibility this year. She figured out how she could score and how she could lead us. I'm really looking forward to the next two years with her."
The ceiling for Diggins and Notre Dame next season is very high. The Irish lose just one senior (center Becca Bruszewski).
"She might not be Maya Moore," said Texas A&M coach Gary Blair of Diggins, "but she might be Maya Moore by the time she gets to be a senior."
Moore suffered a painful tournament loss to Stanford as a freshman and used it for motivation over her next three years. The loss to Texas A&M is going to hurt Diggins for some time ("Tough loss tonight," Diggins tweeted after the game. "Thank you to everyone for all of the support this year. Love you all."), but the great players use defeat as motivation. Watching her the past four days, you get the feeling Diggins will be back at the Final Four again.
"She will spend the entire summer, I'm sure, thinking about this game," said McGraw. "And that's probably a good thing for us."