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Notre Dame

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Irish returners ready to create own legacy

– Notre Dame lost the women’s basketball player the team was most identified with when Skylar Diggins graduated after last season.

Diggins led the Irish to three straight Final Fours and fueled the march to a school best 35-2 record last season that ended with an 83-65 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA tournament semifinals.

But the returning players are ready to form their own legacy as Notre Dame begins its first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference after 18 years in the Big East.

“I think Sky left her mark on this program in such an incredible way, on women’s basketball, really, and we kind of want to build off of that,” guard Kayla McBride said Tuesday during the team’s media day. “We are not just forgetting about Sky and what she did. We are moving on and moving past it and try to elevate it even more.”

Coach Muffet McGraw said her team has the right pieces to make up for the loss of Diggins, who led the team with 17.1 points and 6.1 assists per game last year.

Notre Dame returns four starters in McBride, guard Jewell Loyd and forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker, and the Irish have six of last season’s seven leading scorers back. McGraw said freshman Lindsay Allen will take over at point guard for Diggins.

“I’m really excited about this year, trying to put the pieces together,” McGraw said. “Starting over in some ways and yet with four returning starters and a veteran group, it is going to be an interesting team.

“I feel like we are a young, veteran team. We certainly have some experience, but we have a lot of question marks to fill in.”

One question that has already been answered is where the team will get its identity from this season.

McGraw said McBride, Achonwa and Baker will guide this year’s squad, and the three seniors said they feel like they have the right mix of skills to lead.

“Skylar was a great leader for us in how she was an able director,” Achonwa said. “I think the three seniors balance each other out in terms of leadership.”

The Irish also have the firepower to make up for the loss of Diggins.

McBride was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 15.9 points, and she averaged 2.4 assists. Achonwa was the third-leading scorer, averaging 13.8 points, and she led the team with 9.5 rebounds per game.

Loyd averaged 12.5 points as a freshman and was named the USBWA national freshman of the year, and Braker averaged 5.4 points and 5.4 rebounds.

“Going into the ACC is going to definitely be something for people to see that we are OK, (Diggins) is a great person, a great mentor, but we’re still Notre Dame,” Loyd said. “I really have all the faith in our coaches that they’re going to prepare and make sure we are ready to get out there.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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