- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Skylar Diggins turned the NCAA tournament into her own coming out party.

She beat Tennessee, beat Connecticut and led the Fighting Irish into their first national title game in a decade. The coronation Diggins really craves will have to wait till next year.

Diggins scored 23 points against Texas A&M but committed six turnovers against the stifling Aggies, including the one that sealed A&M’s first national title Tuesday with a 76-70 victory.

“We just didn’t handle their pressure,” Diggins said, fighting back tears. “We turned it over too much. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we didn’t handle the ball and didn’t execute on offense.”

At times, Diggins looked like her usual crisp, tenacious self.

She followed last week’s 24-point game against Pat Summitt’s Volunteers and Sunday’s 28-point game against Geno Auriemma’s Huskies by going 7 of 19 from the field, 8 of 9 from the free-throw line and coming up with four steals.

But in the final 67 seconds, she looked like, well, a sophomore.

Tyra White knocked down a shot-clock beating 3-pointer with 1:07 to go as Diggins raced over to contest the shot. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw called the shot the difference in the outcome.

And during the final minute, A&M forced Diggins into trouble. It double-teamed the Notre Dame guard, stripping the ball away with 20 seconds left. On the next possession, Diggins missed a jumper that would have kept it a single-possession game and then took too long trying to find an open teammate for a much-needed 3-pointer in the closing seconds.

That’s not the player the home-state fans remember going to four Indiana state championship games and winning the state’s coveted Miss Basketball Award.

Or the player NCAA tourney fans watched evolve into the next big thing in women’s basketball. Or the player who is likely to have a major impact in the rugged Big East next season.

Clearly, Diggins has lived up to the billing as one of nation’s top recruits. She helped the Irish become the first team to beat Tennessee and UConn in the same tournament, and she could wind up taking Notre Dame to even loftier achievements in the next two years.

Just ask A&M coach Gary Blair.

“She might not be Maya Moore, but she might be Maya Moore by the time she gets to be a senior,” he said.

In the first five tourney games, Diggins averaged 18.6 points, shot 47.8 percent from the field, 45.5 percent on 3-pointers and had four more assists than turnovers.

On Tuesday night, she was 1 of 5 on 3s and had twice as many turnovers as assists. The explanation was simple.

“They get up in your face and defend for 40 minutes and that wears on you,” Irish guard Natalie Novosel said of A&M. “We were not able to execute our offense the way we practiced.”

The Aggies (33-5) made that a common theme in the postseason, limiting their first four tourney opponents to fewer than 50 points and 30.9 percent shooting.

In Indianapolis, the storyline changed and A&M adapted.

When Stanford took a 62-61 lead Sunday, the Aggies pushed the ball up the floor for a layup with 3.3 seconds left and stole the ensuing inbound pass.

On Tuesday, the Irish cracked the 50-point barrier with about 13 minutes to go, thanks in large part to the shooting of Diggins and Devereaux Peters, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. But the Aggies found a way to pull this one out, too, by eventually forcing mistakes.

Diggins didn’t just struggle late.

Whether it was nervousness or carelessness, she was one of the primary reasons Notre Dame committed seven turnovers in the first 6 1/2 minutes, when the Fighting Irish fell behind 18-6. She struggled again, too, midway through the second half when Notre Dame blew a seven-point lead.

Teammates understood what was going on and blamed themselves for the miscues.

“She’s the captain of our team, she leads the team, she’s got the ball most of the time, so she’s bound to make a few turnovers,” Novosel said. “We didn’t respond well.”

It just came down to too many mistakes.

“They’re a tough defensive team, one of the best in the country,” Diggins said. “They put pressure on you, they make you shoot tough shots and we had some bad passes.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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