Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every Monday of the women's college basketball season.
With the graduation of Natalie Novosel, Brittany Mallory, and Devereaux Peters, it was unclear what Notre Dame would be in 2013. The Irish were going to be good, no doubt, but to duplicate the success of consecutive title game appearances without the talent and leadership of that group seemed like a stretch.
Well, after Saturday's 73-72 win at No. 1 Connecticut, another Final Four suddenly seems very much within reach. Skylar Diggins was the only true given heading into the season, but juniors Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride elevating their games has kept the Irish at a championship level.
In some ways, McBride has replaced both Novosel and Mallory, which is no small feat. She typically earns the top perimeter defensive assignment, as Mallory often did, but also has become Diggins' running mate as a scorer, much the way Novosel was the past two seasons.
Her success in both of those roles Saturday helped the Erie, Pa., native earn espnW national player of the week honors. With her 21 points and dogged defensive effort -- UConn's Kelly Faris and Breanna Stewart, two of McBride's assignments during the afternoon, were a combined 9 of 28 from the field -- McBride was the best player on the floor in the first truly big game of 2013.
McBride's personality, as much as her talent, is a key reason for both the success and the steadiness she has brought to the Irish.
"I think she's a glue player for us this year," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said following the Irish's fifth win in the last six meetings with the Huskies. "She's the one that keeps us together because she never has the highs and lows. She has a very steady attitude."
In a game that was on the opposite end of the significance scale, Notre Dame pummeled St. Francis (Pa.) on New Year's Eve, 128-55. In that one, McBride showed off another one of her assets: efficiency. She shoots nearly 50 percent from the field and 96 percent from the free throw line, and in just 16 minutes, McBride made seven of 11 shots and scored 19 points, with four steals for good measure.
Not that any of this is a surprise. McBride was very good last year, averaging more than 11 points a game and leading the Big East in free throw accuracy. Now she's just better. McBride has eased into the role as leader and go-to player without a hiccup. She's leading the Irish in scoring at 15.7 points per game.
And now, Notre Dame is the early leader in the Big East, the Irish remain the one team Connecticut can't solve, and the possibility of a third straight Final Four is very real.
Sam Ostarello, Purdue: The Boilermakers star tallied 17 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in a 69-66 overtime victory over Nebraska on Saturday. Ostarello also hit what proved to be the winning basket in the extra period.
Odyssey Sims, Baylor: The Lady Bears point guard totaled 27 points in two victories, but Sims' defense caught our eye. She helped limit TCU's primary ballhandlers to 4-for-28 shooting, and then harassed Oklahoma State's Tiffany Bias into nine turnovers and 3-for-10 shooting Sunday.