NEW ORLEANS — Skylar Diggins has proved she is more than another magnetic athlete with branding-worthy personality.
Diggins, an All-America point guard at second-seeded Notre Dame, has led her hometown college to three consecutive national championship games and is on the verge of a WNBA career and even more financial rewards from endorsements.
Still, she became the most popular, if not the most talented player at the 2013 Women’s Final Four because of a pedigree of competitiveness dating to learning the game with her step father, Maurice Scott. Back then, he pushed her to be more than she already was, to accomplish what had yet to achieve.
“My mom used to say how rough he used to play with me,” Diggins said, smiling, on the eve of Notre Dame’s (35-1) semifinal matchup against Connecticut (33-4).
Not that Rene Scott had a lot of room to complain. When it was time for family Monopoly or some activity Rene was involved with, nobody could stop playing until she won. You don’t have to be the best, she told Skylar, but you have to give your best.
It’s a lesson Diggins took with her to the South Bend, Ind., campus. She arrived as one of the best high school basketball players in the country, but had to work — watching from the bench as a freshman — to earn that same reputation in college.
Again, her passion for perfection led her right.
“She loves to watch film,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We talk a lot. We draw stuff up on the board together. We kind of talk about ideas and different things and experiences.
“(At practice) I stand at halfcourt so I can be in her ear ... and (ask) ‘what are you seeing’ and ‘what do you think?’ and ‘what could you have done differently here?’”
Now, Diggins is at the New Orleans Arena, two wins away from a national championship that has eluded her. It won’t be easy. Both teams entered the Women’s NCAA Tournament as top seeds. Notre Dame has beaten UConn three times this season, although now, all that matters is the winner of Sunday’s game.
“We’re going to leave it all on the court and try our best to get to that position where we can fight for the national championship,” she said.
Diggins scored 24 points to oust fifth-ranked Duke 87-76 to advance past the Elite Eight, marking her 32nd game this season with double-digit scoring. She’s averaging 17.3 points per game. Meanwhile, she has the ability to affect a game with more than points — she also averages six assists, 3.6 rebounds and three steals.
Her attitude has motivated her teammates.
“I think our biggest challenge is not settling for where we are at,” junior forward Ariel Braker said. “I think everyone kind of settled in the middle of the season, and now that we know we’re this far, we need to get better each practice, and even today people are getting better at practice.”