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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Notre Dame’s Skylar Diggins may be her sport’s next breakout star

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Mere hours after the Notre Dame women's basketball team toppled two-time defending champion UConn on Sunday to reach the national title game, All-American point guard Skylar Diggins awoke to evidence her star is rising on and off the court.

Among the many congratulatory messages Diggins received on Twitter after her 28-point performance was one from rapper Lil Wayne that read "Kongrats to @skydigg4, my wife. Now bring it home baby."

"I'm like, 'I didn't know we were married, but this is huge,'" Diggins said. "Him just watching the game and watching us play, I think that says a lot about how big women's basketball is becoming."

That Notre Dame fell 76-70 in the national title game to Texas A&M in Tuesday's national title game did little to diminish talk of Diggins taking the torch from three-time national player of the year Maya Moore as the face of women's college basketball. The Notre Dame sophomore scored 23 points in the loss, showcasing the smooth playmaking skills, Madison Avenue smile and effortless charisma that give her more crossover appeal than any other women's college basketball player.

In the three weeks leading up to Tuesday night's national title game, Diggins has gone from 6,000 followers on Twitter to more than 56,000. Searches for her name on Yahoo spiked 2,700 percent on Sunday and went up another 17 percent on Monday.

Diggins is the subject of a new rap song inspired by her NCAA tournament performance. She has her own blog on ESPN.com. And in addition to her shout-out from Lil Wayne, singer Chris Brown also saluted her on Monday, telling her "congrats beautiful."

"Everyone always says that nobody watches women's college basketball, but apparently all it takes is a relatively fresh face, a winner and a school with a great brand like Notre Dame to draw out this emerging star," said David Carter, executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute.

"I don't think one run in the tournament takes her from being a niche star to a transcendent one and I don't think anyone knows how she's going to handle the spotlight going forward, but there's a lot of upside. This certainly tees her up for a big opportunity." {YSP:MORE}

Nationwide stardom is a new phenomenon for Diggins, but she's been a big name in women's basketball circles for years. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw recognized the point guard's potential long before she first donned an Irish jersey.

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Diggins, the nation's top high school point guard in the class of 2009, grew up in South Bend in the shadow of the Notre Dame campus. McGraw identified her as "a must-have recruit" as a freshman in high school, eventually persuading Diggins that the opportunity to win a championship for her hometown school was more enticing than the the pull of Stanford's academic pedigree and history of producing All-Americans.

"I think she was the most important recruit we've gotten," McGraw said. "You can't let a kid like that get away from home. We worked hard for four years. And [current Notre Dame assistant coach] Niele Ivey was instrumental when I hired her. I hired her and I said, 'You've got one job, that's to get Skylar.' She worked on it for a couple of years. And we couldn't have been happier when she finally said yes."

Diggins has exceeded even McGraw's high expectations in her first two seasons at Notre Dame, blossoming into perhaps the nation's best point guard. She averaged 14.3 points and 4.8 assists this season, leading the Irish to a 31-7 record, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and the program's first appearance in the national title game since capturing the championship behind Ivy and center Ruth Riley in 2001.

[Gear: Notre Dame | Texas A&M]

Although the combination of Texas A&M's interior scoring and fierce pressure defense proved too much for Notre Dame to overcome in Tuesday night's national title game, Diggins still played masterfully. She led the team in scoring, sinking a game-tying mid-range jumper with four minutes to go before the Irish went cold at the worst possible time down the stretch.

It wasn't the ending Diggins was hoping for in front of a pro-Notre Dame crowd in Indianapolis, but she still has two more years to deliver the Irish a championship. If the way she played in the NCAA tournament this March is any indication, it wouldn't be wise to bet against her.

Related: Buy UConn national championship gear

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