Point guards are taking center stage at the Norfolk Regional of the women’s NCAA tournament.
Skylar Diggins of top-seeded Notre Dame leads the way, but she’ll be facing off against 5-foot-4 speed demon Angel Goodrich, who helped make Kansas just the second No. 12 seed to ever get this far in the women’s tournament.
“It’s a marquee matchup,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “It will be exciting.”
The other matchup has Lindsay Moore coming off a 20-point, 10-assist effort that led Nebraska past Texas A&M on the Aggies home floor, and Duke countering with the rookie in the group in Alexis Jones, whose nine games at the point include three that made her the ACC tournament MVP.
Jones took over the job when All-American Chelsea Gray dislocated her right kneecap in February.
“What a nice luxury to lose someone of Chelsea’s caliber and sub in another high school All-American,” said Nebraska coach Connie Yori, whose team has reached the round of 16 for just the second time.
The star of the show, though, figures to be Diggins, she of the trademark white headband, 16.8 scoring average, 5.9 assists per game and court sense that has helped the Fighting Irish (33-1) reach the national title game the past two seasons.
Two years ago, they lost 76-70 to Texas A&M. Last year, they fell to Baylor, 80-61.
“Kalia Turner and I, we understand that this is our last go-round,” Diggins said, speaking also of her co-captain, the only other senior on the Fighting Irish roster. “In that sense, we are anxious.”
McGraw senses a difference between this team and the last two.
“There is a tremendous sense of urgency starting with Skylar and our seniors because this is the last chance for them,” the coach, who won the 2001 national championship, said. “Definitely I think the sense of urgency they feel is greater now.”
Diggins said she has watched Goodrich’s career progress, and adds, “I am a fan.”
But when the ball goes up on Sunday at Old Dominion’s Constant Center, it’s business.
“For me, I’m not worried about what she is doing,” Diggins said of her counterpart, who is 5 inches shorter. “It’s about executing scout defense and our offensive plan versus them. If I do my job, then she didn’t do hers.”
In many ways, Goodrich already has done her job at Kansas (20-13). The Jayhawks had only reached the regional round twice in their history when she arrived, and now have done it in the last two seasons. Only San Francisco, in 1996, has come this far as a No. 12 seed since the women’s tournament went to a seeding format in 1994.
“I have been at Kansas for a while and just leaving a legacy, I think that’s what we all wanted to do is come here and make a difference at Kansas, and I feel we’ve done that as a group,” Goodrich said.
At Nebraska (25-8), Moore has been part of both trips to the regionals for the Cornhuskers, and while Jones moved into a new spot at an established elite program at Duke (32-2), the way she has filled in for Gray has been eye-catching.
She averaged 17.7 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds in the ACC tournament, shooting 60 percent (21 of 35) from the field, and had 24 points, eight rebounds and four steals in the championship game.
Once a quiet observer of Gray, Jones has grown into her role.
“She has come out of her shell,” fellow guard Tricia Liston said. “She is talking, she’s yelling on thye court, demanding of us, but (she) is not trying to be Chelsea. She is still her own player.”
One key for the Cornhuskers, Moore said, is not getting psyched out by Duke’s resume. The Blue Devils have reached regional play for the 15th time in 16 years, have won their regional semifinal game in 11 of those years, played for two national championships and in four Final Fours.
“We understand that they’re a big name, but we have been playing successfully and having a good run,” she said. “So we just need to make sure we stay focused on the things that we’ve done up to this point and not necessarily psych ourselves out against a big name like that. Just play Nebraska basketball.”
Her coach, like all the others in the regional, trusts that her point guard can make it happen.
“She is a kid who does not like to lose,” Yori said. “It doesn’t matter if we are playing a shooting game in practice, five-on-five, game time, or monopoly. She does not like to lose.”