McBride remembers the team's pick-up games over the summer, with everyone battling and challenging each other, as if everything was on the line. She knew, as did all of her teammates, that they were building something special. They had confidence, a swagger, and, ironically, much of the credit for that attitude belongs to Diggins, whose leadership style depended upon making her teammates believe they could accomplish great things. She would routinely go around the locker room and pump people up, letting them know what she expected of them, and if she hit someone with a pass for a corner 3, she believed the shooter would knock it down.
Diggins knew, for example, that McBride wasn't a natural vocal leader; but she also knew the team would need McBride to become one. "I'll never forget last season, in the Big East title game against UConn, when I was standing on the court next to Sky and she said she needed me to be ready," McBride said. "She needed me to take over the team -- and she said this while she was still on the team, just looking ahead."
In listening to McBride and her teammates, you get the sense that Achonwa has had a similar impact on the Fighting Irish.
"I know Natalie doesn't believe we're losing anything," McBride said. "She wishes she could be out there, but she believes people can produce as much, if not more. It's the same mentality we had at the start of the season: Who's going to step up? Where are we going to get the production from? Who's going to fill the void?"
The answer, they hope, is everyone.
"We had to prove we would be good without Skylar, and we've already heard people say we can't win without Natalie," McGraw said. "So, we have a chip on our shoulder -- again."
A 36-0 underdog? That's a pretty impressive chip.