Is coaching in Diggins' future?

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, WNBA first-round draft pick, budding young entrepreneur … could former Notre Dame All-American point guard Skylar Diggins add college women’s basketball assistant coach to her glowing resume?

Notre Dame women’s basketball assistant coach Niele Ivey has been mentioned as a candidate for the head coaching job at the University of Minnesota, and Diggins hinted that if Ivey takes a head coaching job, she would be open to being on her staff.

“If (Ivey) goes to another school, she will be successful, and I will definitely have to consider coaching,” Diggins said after Notre Dame whipped Maryland, 87-61, in Sunday’s Final Four game.

Ivey recruited Diggins to Notre Dame from South Bend Washington High School. Diggins went on to be Notre Dame’s all-time leader in points and steals. She said that Ivey is the best recruiter in America, but she has so much more to offer as a head coach.

“Her ability to prepare a team is amazing,” Diggins said of Ivey. “People have wanted Niele for years to coach their program.”

Ivey’s ability to learn from Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw impressed Diggins when she was playing for the Irish. Ivey’s high basketball IQ, and her charismatic personality, are great traits for a coach. Diggins thinks that Ivey’s experience as a point guard helped her develop tremendous insights into the game.

“Having been a point guard, she thinks the game,” Diggins said. “And with her personality, everybody wants to be around for her and play for her.”

Team player

When Irish guard Kayla McBride put a vicious juke on a Maryland defender to create space and then swish a deep jumper, injured Irish star Natalie Achonwa led the Irish cheering on the bench.

“The fact that Kayla McBride crossed somebody up and then laughed going back down the court, definitely made me feel a part of the moment,” Achonwa said. “It was definitely great to be able to be here and be with my team and be a part of this.”

Achonwa said that McBride’s showtime move wasn’t a surprise.

“I’ve seen her better in pick up,” Achonwa said of McBride. “I thought she was going to go off for 40, but I will settle for 28.”

Taking charge(s)

Markisha Wright scored 12 points and had nine rebounds, but taking two charges against Maryland star Alyssa Thomas had an impact on the inside game for Notre Dame.

Wright drew the two charges in the first half, precipitating a 25-10 Irish run that saw the Irish race to a 48-31 halftime lead.

“Any type of charge, we really praise that action, because it’s a selfless act,” Irish assistant coach Carol Owens said. “When Markisha got that charge, it just ignited our team.”

Wright said that the opportunity to take the first charge, with 14:15 left in the first half and Maryland leading 12-11, happened shortly after she checked into the game.

“As soon as I got in, I saw her driving full force,” Wright said of Thomas. “I was like, ‘I’m right here, I might as well as slide over, risk my body, and get a foul on her.’”

Final Four focus

Notre Dame stepped onto the court at Bridgestone Arena to play in its fourth consecutive Final Four. Maryland was making its first appearance since 2006.

Irish senior Ariel Braker said that Notre Dame’s experience was a factor.

“When you’re a non-experienced team, you kind of come out, either overzealous for the game, or a little nervous,” Braker said. “We played to our experience. We’ve played in front of big crowd before, and we know how to feed off of their energy.”

Irish items

Notre Dame has been to the Final Four six times, and the Irish have faced a conference opponent in the national semifinals five times, including each of the last four years. The Irish played Atlantic Coast Conference colleague Maryland on Sunday, and played former Big East rival Connecticut in the past three semifinals.

Notre Dame also played Connecticut in 2001 in a national semifinal game, beating the Huskies on the way to the national title. Notre Dame is 4-1 in national semifinal games against conference opponents. … McBride is fourth all-time in career free-throw percentage in the NCAA Tournament, hitting 89.1 percent (41-of-46). … Notre Dame is shooting 51 percent (160-of-317) in the NCAA Tournament. … The Irish have outrebounded their five NCAA Tournament opponents 226-154. … Notre Dame’s three seniors – Achonwa, Ariel Braker and McBride – have a program-best record of 138-14 for their careers.

Notre Dame assistant coach Niele Ivey won't have to look far for a possible assistant coach to help out when she takes over her own program as a head coach - former Irish standout Skylar Diggins would be willing. (SBT file photo).