Over the last 20 years, few programs in women’s college basketball have more successful than the one Muffet McGraw has built at Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish have won two national championships, have been to 24 straight NCAA tournaments, have posted 11 seasons of 30 wins or more and have been to nine Final Fours. In the last nine years, no team has appeared in the national title game more than Notre Dame, who has been six times. In a streak that ended earlier this year, The Irish were ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll for 234 straight weeks.
While McGraw is a Hall of Famer, she didn’t do this all on her own. Along the way, she recruited and molded some really talented players, who racked up accolades and broke records.
The Irish have produced 19 WNBA Draft picks, including five in 2019 alone. 22 Notre Dame players have earned All-American nods.
We thought we’d take a crack at figuring out who the best five Notre Dame players of all-time were.
For this task, we dove deep into record books and scoured the internet. We decided to go small-ball with our lineup, picking three guards and two forwards.
Let’s take a closer look at the picks.
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Guard: Skylar Diggins-Smith (2009-13)
Skylar Diggins-Smith wasn’t able to lead Notre Dame to a national championship during her four years in South Bend, but she still accomplished a great deal. She led Notre Dame in assists each season she was there and led them in scoring in three of her four seasons. With Diggins-Smith, the Irish won two Big East titles and played in three Final Fours.
A native of South Bend, Diggins-Smith was named an All-Big East selection four times. She was also a four-time All-American, twice a winner of the Lieberman Award and twice the Big East Player of the Year.
Diggins-Smith proved to be a speedy and crafty 5-9 guard who could impact the game on both ends. She is Notre Dame’s all-time leader in free throws made (563) and steals (114), and is second all-time in points, scoring 2,357 between 2009 and 2013. She is also third all-time in assists with 745 dimes dropped.
Guard: Arike Ogunbowale (2015-19)
It’s not uncommon to find players who have come up big in clutch moments. But what’s rare is pulling off what we’ll call “The Arike” — in which a player hits back-to-back game-winning buzzer-beaters in the national semifinals and the national championship game. That’s what Arike Ogunbowale did in 2018, powering Notre Dame to its second national championship. She was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player that year.
A 5-8 native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Ogunbowale would rewrite record books at Notre Dame. She is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,626 points, has the two best scoring seasons in Notre Dame history, has the program record for 30-point and double-digit scoring games, and has the team record for most field goals made in a career. She led the Irish in scoring in three of her four seasons there.
Ogunbowale was a two-time All-American, twice a finalist for the Ann Meyers award and was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 2018. Notre Dame won the ACC in each season she was on campus.
Guard: Jewell Loyd (2012-15)
Jewell Loyd shared a backcourt with Diggins-Smith in her first season in South Bend and the duo led Notre Dame to a Final Four. The next season, Diggins-Smith was gone and Notre Dame moved to the ACC. But with Loyd taking the reins, Notre Dame didn’t miss a beat. The Irish won two ACC titles and appeared in a pair of national championship games.
A 5-10 guard from Lincolnwood, Illinois, Loyd was a two-time All-American and a two-time MVP of the ACC tournament. In 2013, she was the USBWA Freshman of the Year, and in 2015 was named national Player of the Year by ESPNw. She was also the ACC Player of the Year that season.
Loyd shares Notre Dame’s single-game scoring record with Ruth Riley, after Loyd poured in 41 points against DePaul in 2014. She is also tied with Ogunbowale for the program record of double-digit scoring games with 38. Loyd is seventh all-time in scoring for the Irish with 1,909 points and has the program record for most free throws made in a single season with 195 in 2014-15.
In 2018, Loyd helped the Seattle Storm win a WNBA title.
Forward: Brianna Turner (2014-19)
While Ogunbowale was rewriting the record books for scoring, Brianna Turner was racking up blocks and rebounds in South Bend. When she left in 2019, she was the program’s all-time leader in rebounds (1,048) and blocks (372). She is also sixth all-time on the Notre Dame scoring charts, pouring in 2,017 points from 2014 through 2019.
A three-time All-American, the 6-3 Turner was a force in the paint for the Irish, recording 109 blocks in the 2018-19 season. She was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year three times. But Turner wasn’t all defense. In the 2014-15 season, she had the best shooting percentage in the NCAA with a .652 mark.
Turner, from Pearland, Texas, missed Notre Dame’s 2017-18 campaign with an injury, but in her four other seasons on campus, they won the ACC each year and appeared in the national championship game twice.
Ogunbowale and Turner were part of a Notre Dame quintet — which also featured Jackie Young, Jessica Shepard and Marina Mabrey — that is the most prolific scoring unit in NCAA Division I basketball history, scoring a combined 10,230 points in their careers. The highest total on the men’s side is owned by the 2008-09 UNC Tar Heels starters, who totaled 8,216 points.
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Forward: Ruth Riley (1997-01)
Ruth Riley helped begin a new era for Notre Dame women’s basketball. In 2001, she was the centerpiece — and the center — for the squad that brought the program its first national title. That season, she was named National Player of the Year and won the Naismith Award. She was a three-time All-American, the 2001 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player and a three-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
A 6-5 native of Denver, Indiana, Riley was a force on both ends of the floor. She is still second all-time in program history for blocks (370) and rebounds (1,007), and fifth all-time in scoring with 2,072 points. She still owns the program’s best free throw percentage with a .632 mark.
Riley also holds Notre Dame records for most blocks in a single season (113) and she is the all-time leader in minutes played with 4,639.
In the WNBA, Riley won a pair of championships, was an All-Star and a Finals MVP. In 2004, she won an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA. In 2019, she was named to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Sixth Woman: Alicia Ratay (1999-03)
Alicia Ratay was a two-time All-American who led Notre Dame in scoring in the 2001-02 season. But more importantly, she is one of the best shooters in the history of women’s college basketball. Her career three-point shooting percentage of .476 is still the NCAA record, and her .571 mark in the 2000-01 season is an NCAA single-season record for a sophomore and helped power the Irish to a national championship.
Bench: Katryna Gaither, Mary Gavin, Marina Mabrey, Jackie Young, Lindsay Allen, Devereaux Peters, Beth Morgan, Jessica Shepard