The basketball gods would not have let it happen. There’s no way.
Notre Dame senior guard Skylar Diggins was set to play her last game in front of the home crowd at Purcell Pavilion. Really, it was her home.
The South Bend native grew up seven miles away from campus and has been the pride and joy of the Notre Dame women’s basketball program for the past four years. She has led the team to two consecutive national championship games in as many years and a 35-4 record, the most wins in program history. The current 28-1 record is on pace for even more wins than last season.
With as much passion and attitude Diggins plays with, it was only right that her last home game had as much flare as she does.
The schedule had the Connecticut Huskies, one of the premier programs in the history of women’s college basketball, heading to South Bend for the Fighting Irish’s last regular-season home game.
“Rivalry” can be defined when speaking of matchups between these two teams. Once UConn star Maya Moore graduated and left for the WNBA, Notre Dame won six of the next seven games with three going into overtime. These games include regular season matchups as well as elimination games in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. It is sure to be an entertaining and nail-biting game whenever these two teams meet.
As if this game did not have enough riding on it already, the Big East regular-season title was on the line as well.
As expected, the game stayed close throughout, going back and forth the entire time. What could not have been predicted though was Diggins’ struggle from the floor. It was her last home game. She was supposed to be shooting lights out, making shots she could only dream of. Wrong.
To make up for her offensive struggle in going 11-31 from the floor, she contributed defensively, leading the team with 11 rebounds and four steals.
Still, the pesky No. 3 Huskies were looking to spoil the fairy-tale ending at Purcell Pavilion with an upset over the No. 2 Fighting Irish.
Within the last few minutes of regulation, UConn’s starting center and point guard had both fouled out, and Diggins scored the last five points for Notre Dame to send the game into overtime. However, she also missed a free throw that would have ended the game right then and there in regulation. But no, Purcell Pavilion, the sold-out crowd, and Irish Nation were not ready to say goodbye to their legend in the making.
What looked like was going to be a UConn win in the first overtime was barred by the Huskies going 1-5 from the free throw line down the stretch and a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining by junior forward Kayla McBride. After going 0-11 in the game, this was the first 3-point shot made by Notre Dame. The makings of a fairy tale ending starting becoming evident, as the game was headed into double-overtime.
At one point in the second overtime, UConn had gained a five point lead only to see it dwindle away by missed free throws and made Notre Dame shots. A third overtime was in the making.
Momentum left the Huskies and began shifting toward the Fighting Irish. It was then Notre Dame built its largest lead of the game at 11 behind a team effort and UConn going cold from the floor.
As the clock was ticking down, Diggins strutted down the court with her game face still on to give ex-Notre Dame star Ruth Riley a powerful high-five, then yelled “This is my house!” with many other screams and fist pumps. A smile never came across her intense face.
Notre Dame ended up winning the triple-overtime thriller 96-87. As soon as the buzzer sounded, Diggins was shown bent over on the court with her face in her jersey as she was overcome with emotion.
She never sat down in the game, playing all 55 minutes of regulation and overtime “with heart and pride” as she said.
“It is a tad bit overwhelming for me,” Diggins said in an interview as she continued to wipe tears with her jersey. “This is a bittersweet moment but it’s very special…I’m really happy to be a part of this and it’s really a dream come true for me.”
After the interview, she went over to Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw, someone who saw potential in Diggins and offered her a scholarship in the eighth grade. If it were not for Coach McGraw, this great story of the hometown hero would have never happened.
Later, Diggins took to Twitter to send a message to all of her followers: “FIGHTING Irish” with an emphasis on the fighting, “Thank you, Purcell Pavilion, for all the support over the years!”
The rivalry between Notre Dame and UConn will continue throughout the postseason but may be coming to an end with the upcoming dismantling of the Big East. But at this moment, this victory was just meant to be. It was written in the stars, or should I say “Sky.”