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Hawkeye women's basketball ready to take on Notre Dame and Skylar Diggins

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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Everybody in the realm of women’s college basketball knows the name Skylar Diggins. Notre Dame’s star point guard has become, by most standards, the face of women’s college basketball.

Lisa Bluder is fully aware of her presence — so much, that it prompted the Iowa women’s basketball coach to even crack a joke about Diggins.

 

“I think she has more security than Barack Obama when he comes,” she said, smiling. “And that’s OK for us, because we need somebody like that in women’s basketball.”

Bluder might casually joke about Diggins’ aura, but come tonight — when the first-seed Fighting Irish and ninth-seed Hawkeyes clash for a spot in the 2013 Sweet 16 — she’ll have to worry about Diggins’ on-the-court skills. The Notre Dame senior will bring nearly 17 points and 6 dishes per game to the Carver-Hawkeye Arena hardwood — including a 10-point, 6-assist performance in a 97-64 round-one victory over Tennessee-Martin.

Those stats in a round-one thrashing might not look terribly intimidating to the casual basketball fan. But one doesn’t have to be the most veteran of women’s hoops observer to understand what Diggins is truly capable of.

Consider some of the 10 different instances when Diggins led her team in scoring this past season. She’s risen to the occasion against some of the nation’s toughest foes to deliver top-notch performances — such as a 24-point, 4-assist, 5-steal performance over Texas A&M on Dec. 12, 2012. The Lady Aggies won the 2011 NCAA title.

Or perhaps in Knoxville on Jan. 28 against the Tennessee Lady Volunteers — regarded by many as a perennial power, year-in and year-out. In front of more than 13,500 screaming Rocky Top die-hards, Diggins dropped 33 in a 10-point victory.

Even more recently, Diggins provided, arguably, her best outing of the 2012-13 season. She led Notre Dame in both points and assists — 29 and 11 — during a 96-87 triple-overtime victory over Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut Huskies.

“I think she’s the face of women’s college basketball, and it’s been great for women’s basketball, because we are attracting a fan base that we’ve had ever had before,” Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said. “People in the entertainment industry are watching our games. The casual fan is now tuning in to see what Skylar is going to do. She’s got the headband nation following her.”

Truth is, Diggins has more than 300,000 followers on Twitter, with even more basketball fans doing all they can to even snap a picture of her while she’s in Iowa City — Carver drew 6,836 fans for Sunday’s first-round action, the third-highest among the 16 first-round regional sites. Only Waco (9,540) and College Station (7,225) drew more fans.

But the limelight of Diggins doesn’t faze the Hawkeyes. There is respect for the Naismith Award finalist, but Iowa players said they like the idea of sending Diggins and her team home early from this year’s Big Dance. It would be just the fourth time since the tournament field expanded to 64-teams that a 1-seed didn’t make it to the Sweet 16, should Iowa pull the upset.

It just so happens that history is on Iowa’s side — a ninth-seed got the job done on two of those three occasions.

“Everyone has to be on point,” Iowa’s senior center Morgan Johnson said. “There can’t be any letups with who is on the floor. Just continuing to move people in and out of the rotation with flawlessness and just everyone being on point, because all of them are good.

“They play for Notre Dame, and so all of them have the ability to score and do good things.”


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