By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins was selected Big East player of the year for the second consecutive season on Friday, leading an Irish sweep of the conference’s three major awards.
Muffet McGraw was voted the coach of the year and guard Jewell Loyd earned freshman of the year honors.
Notre Dame (28-1) won its second straight regular-season Big East title, finishing 16-0 in conference play and earning the top seed in this weekend’s Big East tournament, which started Friday at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The Irish have never won a Big East tournament title, but come into this season’s tournament on a 23-game winning streak.
They were picked in the conference’s pre-season poll to finish second, behind Connecticut. However, the Irish beat UConn twice this season. They’ve been winning games by an average of more than 25 points, despite losing three of its top players from last season, Natalie Novosel, Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory, to graduation.
“This team has been unbelievably easy to coach and I appreciate everything they’ve done to get us to where we are right now,” McGraw said.
Diggins led the way, averaging 17.3 points, while dishing out 5.9 assists.
She is the sixth woman to be picked player of the year more than once, joining Villavona’s Shelly Pennefather and Connecticut’s Kerry Bascom, Rebecca Lobo, Dianna Taurasi and Maya Moore.
“I’m glad to say that I finished my four years in the Big East conference, the best conference in the country,” she said Friday, the day the Big East announced seven Catholic schools will form their own basketball conference. Notre Dame plans to join the ACC in all sports except football.
Loyd has averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.
McGraw is 707-257 over her career at Lehigh (88-41) and Notre Dame (619-216), winning her 700th game this year at Villanova on Feb. 5.
Notre Dame went undefeated in the conference for the first time since joining in 1995-96 and became the first team to win six of its last seven games against Connecticut in more than two decades.
DePaul University guard Anna Martin was the only player not from Notre Dame on the podium Friday. She was voted by coaches as the league’s scholar-athlete of the year.
In honors announced Thursday, Martin also earned the sportsmanship award, Syracuse’s Carmen Tyson-Thomas won the Sixth Man Award, UConn’s Kelly Faris won defensive player of the year and shared the most improved award with DePaul’s Brittany Hrynko.