Diggins, Irish begin quest for 2012 title game

Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins sat at her locker, shaking her leg in disgust.

She was frustrated, angry and already pondering how to correct her mistakes when she gets back on the court.

All Diggins really wants after Tuesday night's 76-70 loss to Texas A&M in the championship game is a second chance to get it right.

"We'll be upset and you'll see the disappointment in our faces, but it all starts again tomorrow," Diggins said in a defiant tone. "It will help me become a better leader for next year."

Diggins doesn't have a choice if she's going to have the coronation she really craves.

She's determined to work out the kinks in her game and get teammates such as Devereaux Peters more involved to reach Denver for next year's Final Four. And even though Diggins fell short of her biggest goal this season, she emerged as the next shooting star in women's basketball.

Diggins scored 24 points in the victory over Tennessee last week, 28 in the win over Connecticut on Sunday and 23 in Tuesday night's loss against one of the nation's toughest defenses.

Along the way Notre Dame (31-8) became the first team to beat Tennessee and Connecticut in the same tourney, reached its first title game in a decade and re-established itself as a team to be reckoned with in the rugged Big East.

"She's extremely hard on herself, and she will spend the summer, I'm sure, thinking about this game," coach Muffet McGraw said. "That's probably a good thing for us. That's probably how we got motivated last year."

Count Diggins in.

Minutes after McGraw uttered those words on the riser, an angry Diggins walked into the locker room and acknowledged Notre Dame's quest for a national championship begins Wednesday.

Diggins will dictate what happens.

When she played like her usual self Tuesday night, the Irish were in control. She connected on 7 of 19 from the field, 8 of 9 from the free-throw line and came up with four steals.

But when she played like a sophomore, well, Notre Dame struggled, especially late.

Diggins couldn't prevent Tyra White from knocking down a shot-clock beating 3-pointer with 1:07 to go — the play McGraw described as a knife through her heart and in the final minute, A&M forced Diggins into several miscues.

It double-teamed the dynamic guard near the free-throw line, stripping the ball away with 20 seconds left — a turnover that essentially sealed the outcome. On the next Notre Dame possession, Diggins missed a jumper that would have made 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.

She finished with twice as many turnovers (six) as assists (three).

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

Diggins acknowledged she was so distraught with the result that she left the court before her teammates to collect her thoughts after growing up in this tournament.

"I think she really gave herself a big shot of credibility, I guess I would say, coming into next year as one of the top players in the Big East and one of the top players in the country," McGraw said. "I think she really, really figured out how she could score and how she could lead us, and I'm really looking forward to the next two years with her."

Coaches at other schools are not looking forward to those 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.

The third-team All-American will have a solid foundation around her next season.

Peters, the Big East defensive player of the year who had 21 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday's loss, will return for her final college season. Guard Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame's top scorer with 15.1 points, also comes back in the fall, and three two-time all-state selections will join the mix, too.

The key, of course, is eliminating the costly mistakes, and Diggins will be the first to acknowledge it begins with her — even if her teammates say it's not all her fault.

"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 and we've got to do a better job."