Skylar Diggins' performance on Tuesday night against the Syracuse Orange, as showcased in the highlight video above, was a fairly excellent example of why she is considered a top three draft prospect in the 2013 WNBA draft.
After she was honored for her outstanding career as part of Senior Night, Diggins proceeded to score 24 points on 8-for-22 shooting along with 8 assists and 6 steals. Her 21 first half points were critical to keeping the Fighting Irish in the game and ultimately turning the momentum in their favor by halftime.
However, while we've heard plenty about Diggins as a draft prospect, Syracuse has a prospect of their own in Kayla Alexander who thoroughly controlled the game early on to help her team get out to a lead, as described by Sean Farrell of SB Nation's Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician yesterday.
"...the Orange relied on senior leader Kayla Alexander and she answered the call. Alexander started a perfect 6-6 shooting, capped off with a layup to put SU up 26-15 midway into the first half.
"Anytime Kayla (Alexander) can get those kinds of looks, we’re going to be a good basketball team," Hillsman said. "We just wanted to concentrate on getting her the ball down low and we did a good job of doing that."
With 8:37 left in the half and the Orange up 13, Hillsman gave his center a breather. Alexander returned about a minute later, but wasn't the same. She hit a jumper to put 35-21, but then missed her next seven shots.
Although her 24 points and 16 rebounds were noteworthy, her scoring struggles after the return that Farrell highlighted were equally important in understanding who she is as a player.
Alexander did an outstanding job of getting low and establishing deep post position prior to leaving the game at the 8:37 mark in the first half. She showed better footwork after receiving the ball than other top post prospects in the draft and did a great job recognizing passing the ball out of double teams when necessary. Struggling to contend with Alexander inside, Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa picked up two fouls and was taken out of the game. It was about as dominant a ten minute stretch as you could hope for from a post player.
So what changed when she returned the game?
Moreso than anything in particular about her game changing, what really changed was Notre Dame's defensive intensity and they did it on two fronts: the Fighting Irish guards did a better job of pressuring the Orange guards to make entering the ball more difficult and 6-foot-2 reserve forward Markisha Wright did an exemplary job of either preventing Alexander from getting position or making her work for it. And with Notre Dame's guards making Syracuse's guards work harder and Wright making Alexander work harder - not to mention help defender rotating much more quickly - those seemingly routine looks that were available on the block early in the game were suddenly much more difficult to get.
For WNBA teams looking at Alexander, that game probably showed her at both her best and most average, with the time that Farrell marked as the dividing line - her final line on the stat sheet was outstanding and she looked almost unguardable by Notre Dame's smaller posts early on; after Notre Dame got a bit more physical with her, she struggled to make things happen offensively.
Alexander's biggest strength is offensive rebounding which has been a pretty reliable WNBA skill for college centers in recent years, but her performance last night does bring up the question of how dominant we expect a bona fide pro prospect to be: how much do read into either stretches of dominance or stretches of relative ineffectiveness?
It's a question that ends up being a tough one to answer - and to some extent varies by position and strength of competition - but it might end up being a key one for Alexander in this draft.
For more of our take on 2013 WNBA draft prospects, visit our storystream.