UK Women's Basketball

Setbacks forged Novosel's resolve for No. 3 Notre Dame

Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel drove to the basket ahead of Baylor's Terran Condre  in the Preseason NIT championship game on Nov. 20. Baylor handed Notre Dame its only loss this season.
Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel drove to the basket ahead of Baylor's Terran Condre in the Preseason NIT championship game on Nov. 20. Baylor handed Notre Dame its only loss this season. ASSOCIATED PRESS

When the going gets tough, the tough grab a basketball.

At least that's what Natalie Novosel does.

The starting guard for third-ranked Notre Dame has had more than her share of hoops heartache since walking on campus.

She went through a sophomore slump where she lost her starting spot on a team loaded with talent.

Novosel spent a few minutes feeling sorry for herself and then decided to double the amount of time she spent in the gym that summer.

"She lost her confidence for a little while and that affected her game," Coach Muffet McGraw said of her senior guard from Lexington, just a few days before the Irish host No. 8 Kentucky on Sunday.

"At the end of the year, Natalie just got determined to work on her own game and not worry about anything else."

The result has been well documented.

That next season, the 5-foot-11 guard led Notre Dame in scoring with 15.1 points a game (more than tripling her points totals from the season before).

She earned Big East Most Improved Player honors and helped carry the Irish to the national title game, where they lost to Texas A&M.

This brings Novosel to another moment of misery.

The former Lexington Catholic star was standing in the Notre Dame locker room after losing the championship game.

She watched senior Becca Bruszewski sob uncontrollably in front of the loud lights of television cameras.

Novosel's shoulders slumped. She leaned against the cold tile wall.

She felt terribly for her teammate. Novosel knew that she didn't want to feel that same way next season.

She reached for a basketball, not weeks, but days later.

Novosel vowed to get better.

"I was just so motivated after that loss," she said. "I just wanted to get physically stronger and more in shape. ... I went at it even harder than I did the previous summer."

Her hard work paid off in the form of a gold medal in the World University Games this summer in China, an honor she shared with Irish teammates Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters.

The experience was "amazing and humbling," Novosel said.

"There was not a greater feeling than holding my two teammates' hands and stepping on the pedestal together and bowing our heads and having the medals placed around our necks," she said.

Now Novosel and her teammates have their heads up and their eyes open fixed on the national championship trophy that fell from their grasp at the end of last season.

The Irish (9-1) certainly seem like a team on a mission this season, winning six straight since falling at top-ranked Baylor on Nov. 20.

On the road last week at No. 12 Purdue, Notre Dame ran away with its biggest win (66-38) over a top 25 team since 2004.

Novosel, a team captain averaging 16.2 points and 3.1 rebounds, is a big part of that success, her coach said.

And Novosel isn't just helping the Irish by scoring points or grabbing rebounds.

She's doing it through her leadership.

After all, Novosel's had to pull herself from the emotional basement a time or two.

"We had a freshman (struggling with her role) this year and I just said, 'Talk to Natalie,'" McGraw said. "It's great to have an upperclassman who can sit down with her and say, 'Hey, listen. Here's what it was like for me.'

"They hear the coaches, but it has so much more impact when it comes from a player."

On a veteran team that has everyone back but Bruszewski, Novosel has been a rock.

"She's incredibly tough," McGraw said. "She's the most mentally tough player on the team."

Novosel's not just mentally tough, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell noted this week.

"Natalie Novosel is one of the toughest perimeter players we're going to face," he said. "I told our players they're not going to play a much more physical, aggressive, tough perimeter player than Natalie."

Don't be surprised to see Novosel try to show that toughness against the Cats (10-0), who topped Notre Dame 81-76 last season in Memorial Coliseum despite the Irish getting 21 points and eight rebounds from Novosel.

It's safe to say Novosel went back to the gym and reached for a basketball this week with that loss in mind.

"I definitely want to beat Kentucky," she said. "It hurt last year to come into my hometown and lose in front of my home crowd. That stung a little. It's still in the back of my head."

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