SOUTH BEND – Skylar Diggins enters her final NCAA tournament with a sense of calmness after losses in the championship game the past two seasons.
I’m really coming in with a light mood, approaching practice wanting to have fun and enjoy this moment, because it’s my last go around. But the sense of urgency is greater, Diggins said Friday before practice. But I don’t think I’m putting any more pressure on myself or on our team than anyone else is.
Diggins, one of four finalists for the Naismith Award, has led the Irish (31-1) to its best regular season ever, with Notre Dame posting its first undefeated Big East season and winning the league tournament for the first time, beating rival UConn three times along the way.
Diggins believes winning the league tournament is an example of this squad’s will to win and gives it momentum heading into the NCAA tournament, where the Irish open against Tennessee-Martin (19-14) on Sunday in Iowa City, Iowa. Notre Dame, which has won a school-record 26 straight, is a No. 1 seed for the second straight season and for the third time in program history.
Diggins, who was has started a school-record 139 games and played in 15 NCAA tournament games, said she isn’t feeling any nervousness about her last chance.
The calmness comes with experience. I know what I have to do in my job, she said.
Coach Muffet McGraw, who guided the Irish to a national championship in 2001, said Diggins had been feeling under the weather all week. All Diggins would say Friday was that she is feeling fine.
McGraw knows Diggins is putting pressure on herself heading into the tournament. McGraw believes that’s a good thing because it’s what makes her one of the nation’s best players.
She embraces that challenge. She wants to be great. She wants to be the best player and she wants us to be the best team. So I think for her, she’s going to go into this tournament – like she does for every other one – with an incredible sense of urgency and ready to go, McGraw said. She doesn’t have to prove herself to anybody. She can just relax.
As good as Diggins has been in four seasons, averaging 15.7 points a game on 44.8 percent shooting with 4.9 assists and 3.2 turnovers, she’s been even better at tournament time. In NCAA tournament games, Diggins is averaging 17.4 points on 46 percent shooting with 5.7 assists and 3.6 turnovers.