Skylar Diggins takes home MVP honors

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Senior guard/co-captain Skylar Diggins was chosen as the recipient of both the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player and Woody Miller Player of the Year awards, it was announced Tuesday night during the 2012-13 Notre Dame Women’s Basketball Awards Banquet in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. In addition, four other Fighting Irish players received individual honors as part of the year-end celebration.

An overflow crowd of approximately 1,200 people was in attendance (matching the crowds from the previous two years as the largest in banquet history), as Notre Dame enjoyed one of the finest seasons in program history in 2012-13, rolling to a 35-2 record, including a school-record 30-game winning streak, and the school’s third consecutive NCAA Women’s Final Four appearance as well as its fifth overall.

In addition, the Fighting Irish claimed their second consecutive outright BIG EAST Conference regular season title (and third in school history) with a perfect 16-0 record before defeating host Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship title game to secure the program’s first BIG EAST postseason crown in its 18th and final season in the conference. It marked the first time in 20 years that a team other than Connecticut swept the BIG EAST regular season and tournament titles in the same year, while the Fighting Irish became only the third non-Connecticut squad to go undefeated in BIG EAST play (first since Rutgers in 2005-06).

Notre Dame also posted a rare team milestone, becoming the only school since 2001-02 to have two seasons in which four players scored at least 450 points, pulling off that feat the past two years (the only other schools to do it even once are Connecticut in 2001-02 and Maryland in 2007-08).

What’s more, the Fighting Irish set or tied no fewer than 15 single-season school records — wins (35), winning percentage (.946), fewest losses (2), conference winning percentage (1.000), longest winning streak (30), scoring average (81.2 ppg.), most 90-point games (10), most 100-point games (3), field goals attempted (2,400), free throw percentage (.798), rebounds (1,621), rebounding margin (+10.9 rpg.), assists (722), assist/turnover ratio (1.27) and double-doubles (25).

Notre Dame piled up a 12-2 record against ranked opponents this season, including six wins against top-10 teams. The Fighting Irish also ranked among the top 20 in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories, including top-six rankings in scoring offense (2nd – 81.2 ppg.), scoring margin (3rd - +21.9 ppg.), free throw percentage (3rd – .798), assists (3rd – 19.5 apg.), rebounding margin (5th - +10.9 rpg.), field goal percentage (6th - .455) and assist/turnover ratio (6th – 1.27). What’s more, Notre Dame appeared in the top five of both major national polls for 19 weeks this season, including the final six weeks as the consensus No. 2 team in the nation (after spending an additional six weeks at No. 2 in the AP poll).

On top of that, Notre Dame placed fifth in the final NCAA attendance rankings (school-record 8,979 fans per game), registering a school-record 11 sellouts this season (including nine of its final 10 home games). It marks the fourth consecutive season the Fighting Irish have been ranked in the top five in the nation in attendance, raising their average to school-record levels annually starting in 2009-10 and by more than 25 percent across that four-year period.

Other honorees at Tuesday night’s banquet (as chosen by a vote of their teammates) included: freshman guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), who garnered the team’s Defensive Player of the Year honor; junior forward Ariel Braker (Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich./Grosse Pointe North), who was tapped as the team’s Most Improved Player; and senior guard/co-captain Kaila Turner (Joliet, Ill./Marian Catholic), who took home the Spirit Award. In addition, sophomore guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield, Ill./Montini Catholic) was honored by the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley with this year’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award.

Both departing members of the senior class (Diggins and Turner), along with student managers Brigitte Lawless and Katie Schwab, delivered emotional speeches about their careers at Notre Dame, closing the book on a historic four-year run that included a program-best 130-20 record (70-6 during the past two years), two NCAA national championship game appearances, three NCAA Women’s Final Four berths, two BIG EAST titles and a BIG EAST Championship crown. A senior video tribute and the always-popular season highlight and behind-the-scenes videos capped off the evening’s festivities.

Notre Dame is expected to return four starters and nine monogram recipients from this year’s squad, led by a pair of senior All-Americans in guard Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) and forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic), along with Loyd, who is the reigning USBWA National Freshman of the Year. The Fighting Irish also will welcome a four-player incoming class that has been ranked as high as third in the nation by several national recruiting services.

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.

Here’s a closer look at the 2012-13 Fighting Irish women’s basketball award winners:

Skylar Diggins (Sr., G, South Bend, Ind./Washington)
Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP
Woody Miller Player of the Year (voted by media)

Diggins recently completed a remarkable college career that saw her rewrite the Fighting Irish record books, leaving campus as the holder (or co-holder) of no fewer than 32 game, season or career records at Notre Dame. She also ranks among the top five on an astounding 105 of the program’s game, season or career charts, including school records for career points (2,357), steals (381), games started (144) and double-figure scoring games (121), just to name a few.

What’s more, Diggins is the only player (of either gender) in Notre Dame basketball history to register 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals in her career, and one of only six NCAA Division I women’s basketball players since 1999-2000 to reach those impressive marks. She also stands among the top 15 players in BIG EAST history (regular season games only) in four career categories — assists (15th), steals (tied-15th), free throws made (7th) and free throws attempted (11th).

Diggins is the only player in program history to be a four-time All-America selection, earning consensus first-team honors the past two years to join Riley as the only Fighting Irish cagers ever to pull off that feat. In addition, she broke new ground in the Notre Dame history books as a three-time NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Player (2010-Dayton, 2011-Raleigh, 2012-Norfolk), a two-time BIG EAST Player of the Year and a two-time recipient of the Nancy Lieberman Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard (the past two seasons making her just the third two-time honoree in the award’s history), along with being the 2013 recipient of the Dawn Staley Award.

As a senior in 2012-13, Diggins started all 37 games, leading the BIG EAST in assists (6.1 apg.; also 19th in nation), while ranking fourth in scoring (17.1 ppg.) and third in steals (3.1 spg.; also 18th in nation; school-record 114 steals overall) and fourth in free throw percentage (.814). She also is among the conference’s best in assist/turnover ratio (5th - 1.67) and three-point percentage (6th - .362), and she led the team with 33 double-figure scoring games, including 12 20-point outings. Furthermore, she added three double-doubles and her second career triple-double after piling up 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a Feb. 24 win at DePaul.

On April 15, Diggins was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round of the 2013 WNBA Draft by the Tulsa Shock, becoming Notre Dame’s second WNBA Draft lottery (top-four) selection in as many years and matching the highest choice in program history (Devereaux Peters (’11) was chosen third by the Minnesota Lynx last year). When she arrives in Oklahoma early next month, the South Bend native will be one of four Fighting Irish players on WNBA training camp rosters, joining Peters, Ruth Riley (’01) with the Chicago Sky and Natalie Novosel (’12) with the Washington Mystics.

Jewell Loyd (Fr., G, Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West)
Defensive Player of the Year Award

After arriving at Notre Dame last summer with a reputation as a prolific offensive threat, Loyd quickly moved to diversify her game and emerged as one of the top defenders in the BIG EAST, if not the country. Loyd often was given the assignment of guarding some of the country’s best perimeter players and she embraced the challenge each time out. Among the many players shut down by Loyd’s defensive efforts this season were: Rutgers’ Erica Wheeler (17 points on 4-14 FG), Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers (14 points on 6-18 FG), St. John’s’ Shenneika Smith (three points on 1-15 FG), Pittsburgh’s Brianna Kiesel (12 points on 5-20 FG), Tennessee’s Meighan Simmons (11 points on 4-11 FG), Cincinnati’s Dayeesha Hollins (six points on 2-9 FG), Louisville’s Shoni Schimmel (33 total points on 13-34 FG in two games), DePaul’s Brittany Hrynko (15 points on 4-19 FG), Syracuse’s Elashier Hall (six points on 2-9 FG), Iowa’s Jamie Printy (10 points on 3-10 FG) and Kansas’ Monica Engelman (10 points on 4-16 FG).

Not to be overlooked, Loyd remained a dynamic scoring presence for the Fighting Irish during her rookie year, scoring in double figures 24 times while averaging 12.5 points (25th in BIG EAST), 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals per game with a .413 three-point percentage (would have been third in BIG EAST, but was five 3FG short of qualification) and .820 free throw percentage (third in BIG EAST). She was named the United States Basketball Writers Association National Freshman of the Year and the BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, while also collecting honorable mention all-conference and BIG EAST All-Freshman Team honors (the latter being a unanimous selection by the league’s coaches).

Ariel Braker (Jr., F, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich./Grosse Pointe North)
Most Improved Player Award

Perhaps no player on the Notre Dame roster (if not the country) made bigger strides this season than Braker. After coming off the bench in 57 games during her first two years (and averaging 6.5 minutes per game in that span), Braker was tapped as the fifth starter in the high-powered Fighting Irish lineup early this season and never gave up that spot. The veteran post more than doubled her previous year’s averages in scoring (5.4 ppg.), rebounding (5.4 rpg.), blocked shots (team-high 1.25 bpg. - ninth in BIG EAST), assists (1.7 apg.), steals (1.1 spg.) and field goal percentage (team-high .581), all while appearing in 36 games and starting 33 times.

Braker registered at least one blocked shot in 28 games this season, including 14 games with multiple blocks. She also scored in double figures eight times (including a career-high 15 points on two occasions) after reaching that mark twice in her first two years combined. What’s more, Braker showed glimpses of further promise during Notre Dame’s five-game run to its third consecutive NCAA Women’s Final Four, averaging 6.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 blocks per game with a .565 field goal percentage during the NCAA Championship.

Kaila Turner (Sr., G, Joliet, Ill./Marian Catholic)
Spirit Award

Championship teams are only as good as the players that lead them, and in Turner, Notre Dame had one of the very best in 2012-13. Selected as a co-captain prior to the season by her teammates, Turner led by example, battling back from a pair of near season-ending injuries (including a torn ulnar collateral ligament in her left elbow on Feb. 5 at Villanova, an injury that will require Tommy John surgery, almost unheard of for a basketball player) to become one of the primary reserves and catalysts for the Fighting Irish during the postseason.

In her final season at Notre Dame, Turner averaged a career-high 3.9 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while scoring in double figures three times (including a season-high 12 points in a BIG EAST Championship semifinal win over No. 16/15 Louisville). She also ranked a close second on the team (and tops among guards) with a 1.75 assist/turnover ratio and was one of four Fighting Irish players to net at least 20 three-pointers this season.

Whitney Holloway (So., G, Plainfield, Ill./Montini Catholic)
Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award

A relentless player at both ends of the court, Holloway saw action in 27 games this season, averaging a career-high 2.7 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game this year with a .474 field goal percentage. She also cracked double figures for the first time in her career with 15 points (6-9 FG, 1-1 3FG) on Dec. 19 in a win over Alabama A&M in the first round of the World Vision Classic in Las Vegas. She added a career-best four steals in that same game, and later set a personal best with five assists in a Jan. 26 victory over Providence at Purcell Pavilion.

In the classroom, Holloway has been an exemplary student, holding a 3.167 cumulative GPA as a psychology major in the College of Arts and Letters. She also earned a spot on the 2011-12 BIG EAST All-Academic Team (with the 2012-13 team announcement pending), and she joins McBride as the women’s basketball team representatives on the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).


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