SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame guard Skylar Diggins remembers calling a play last season just a moment before coach Muffet McGraw called for something else. Diggins decided to go ahead and run the play she called.

Diggins thought she might get an earful from McGraw when she got to the bench for the next timeout, but was pleasantly surprised.

"She said, 'I love that you have a mind of your own.' That's all she said. That was the end of the conversation,'" Diggins said.

McGraw probably wouldn't have reacted the same way to a lot of others who have played for her, but she and Diggins have a special relationship that dates when Diggins was a seventh grader. The dazzling 5-foot-9 point guard is now in her final year of playing for McGraw as she tries to find a way to lead the Irish to the NCAA title game for a third straight time - hopefully with a different outcome.

After two years of playing with veteran teammates, Diggins will play her senior year surrounded mostly by underclassmen. But the expectations are still high for the seventh-ranked Irish, and McGraw and Diggins say they believe a national championship is possible.

"We have to rise to the challenge," McGraw said.

McGraw is counting heavily on Diggins, a player she sees almost as a coach on the floor. While McGraw has had some standout point guards in her 31 years as coach, she said she's never had anyone like Diggins.

"I think she'd be a really great coach which is unusual for great players because they're so gifted that things come easy, they don't know how to teach it, McGraw said. "She's the exception."

Diggins grew up in South Bend and remembers watching McGraw at games and going to McGraw's basketball camp when she was 11. That was a few months after McGraw guided Notre Dame to the 2001 national championship.

She remembers liking McGraw right away. McGraw doesn't remember noticing Diggins until seventh grade, but was so impressed by then she offered her a scholarship a year later. It wasn't just Diggins' basketball skills, either.

"She had that attitude and that competitive spirit that I was really attracted to because I see a lot of that in myself and I want people to hate to lose. So I saw that drive," McGraw said.

With all 12 players returning from the season before, Diggins didn't start initially and didn't play point as a freshman. McGraw remembers Diggins coming to her being frustrated that she wasn't starting and asking what she needed to do.

"She said, 'Lay it out for me, because that's what I'm going to do,'" McGraw said.