SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In her middle-school days, Skylar Diggins often was too young to get into the parties she wanted to attend.
She found her way around that by becoming a disc jockey — she started at 12 and has been doing it ever since. Notre Dame’s star point guard has approached her musical interests the same way she attacks opponents.
“I think she has this will to win,” said Maurice Scott, her stepfather and high school coach at South Bend Washington. “Winning, to her, is being able to do the best that she can do and bring the best that she can bring.
“I don’t think it really matters what it is that she’s doing. If she’s deejaying, doing a set during a wedding or a party or whatever, you’ll think, ‘This girl is the best deejay in the world.”’
The sophomore has been spinning her opponents’ heads on the basketball court all season. Now the third-team All-American leads her Fighting Irish (30-7) against No. 1 Connecticut in a national semifinal Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse. Diggins said it will be special to take her team into the Final Four in the same building where she played for three Indiana state championships. Her high sc hool team won the title in 2007.
“It means a lot for the City of South Bend, and for the state of Indiana with the Final Four being in Indianapolis,” she said. “A lot of fans will have the opportunity to see us play now. A lot of Notre Dame grads live there.”
Scott is thrilled that he’s had the opportunity to follow Diggins’ college career. And it’s just a 130-mile trip from South Bend to Indianapolis.
“We love her and we’re proud of her,” he said. “To go down to the Final Four is amazing. It’s kind of surreal.”
Diggins was Indiana’s Miss Basketball and claimed the national Gatorade and Naismith player of the year awards as a high school senior, but she had few conversations with Connecticut or coach Geno Auriemma.
“She was really never interested in Connecticut,” Scott said. “It wasn’t that she didn’t think Geno was a great coach or that they didn’t have a great program. She just wanted to play against Connecticut. She didn’t want to play for them.”
Playing against them hasn’t gone great so far— the Huskies (36-1) won the three meetings between the teams this season. But the Irish only lost 79-76 to UConn in South Bend in January. Diggins said her team takes great confidence into Sunday’s matchup.
“They’re a great team, and I think they’re a team that helped us get better throughout the year,” Diggins said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Notre Dame only lost four other games this season, so the Fighting Irish feel they owe the Huskies.
“Another opportunity at them is great,” Diggins said. “This team plays well with a chip on its shoulder.”
To get one more shot at Connecticut, the Irish needed to end a 20-game losing streak against Tennessee. Diggins scored 24 points in a 73-59 win over the Volunteers in the Elite Eight.
Diggins was in control during difficult moments against Tennessee, something she couldn’t claim in clutch situations the previous season.
“I was more emotional,” Diggins said of her freshman year. “I wasn’t mentally tough. That was my main focus this year was to keep the poise for myself and my teammates throughout the game. In those moments last year, looking back on some film, I was just going crazy.”
Diggins is playing point guard after being a primary scorer in high school and a shooting guard as a college freshman. Her teammates say her adjustment is a key reason the Fighting Irish are in the Final Four.
Diggins is averaging 14.4 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds this season.
“Sky has transitioned seamlessly from a wing to the point-guard position,” said Natalie Novosel, the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 point per game. “She has a great court awareness. She just knows the game.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said Diggins has taken to studying the game more in the past year.
“She comes in the office all the time,” McGraw said. “She’s constantly asking questions on the court at practice, during the game. She wants to know exactly what to do.”
McGraw said Diggins has become more comfortable with her role throughout the season.
“She’s asking less and less as the season goes on,” McGraw said. “I think she’s learned a lot about how to manage, ‘How can I score and how can I also distribute the ball.’ And that’s a tough thing for a scorer to do, but she really has done it well.”
Scott said McGraw has been good for his daughter.
“Skylar, sometimes, she gets really intense,” he said. “It takes a special coach to coach a special player. Skylar is definitely a special player, and coach McGraw is a special coach.”
Scott could barely find words to describe his stepdaughter’s increasing maturity as a player and as a person.
“This has been amazing,” he said. “When you see that growth — I see growth that the average fan doesn’t see. She’s really starting to understand. She’s really starting to get it. It really brings tears to my eyes.”