Notre Dame women's basketball: McGraw challenged by draw

CURT RALLO South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

Of all the teams in the Big Ten, there was one team that Notre Damewomen’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw didn’t want to play in theAtlantic Coast Conference-Big Ten Conference Challenge — Penn State.

That’s because Coquese Washington, who played for McGraw at Notre Dameand was an assistant coach for the Irish for eight seasons, is thehead coach at Penn State.

“Of course, we would never schedule a game against Penn State, becauseI try not to play my friends,” McGraw said.

Notre Dame didn’t schedule a game against Penn State, but the ACC andBig Ten offices did when they put the pairings together for theChallenge.

Notre Dame will play at Penn State on Wednesday, Dec. 4. Tip time andTV will be announced later.

“We were just talking the other day,” McGraw said of Washington. “Iknew that we were going to be away, and she knew that they were goingto be at home. I guess I just figured that we’d end up with Purdue.It’s a natural rival for us. We both said, ‘I hope we don’t have toplay each other.’

“And then I got the news, and I said, ‘Well, I guess we’re going toPenn State. That’s a shame.’ At least we’re not playing in the NCAATournament, where if you lose, you’re done.”

Washington led Notre Dame to its first NCAA Tournament berth inwomen’s basketball (1992). She returned to Notre Dame as an assistantcoach in 1999-2000 and stayed for eight seasons before taking over thePenn State job. Notre Dame was 188-69 (.732) when Washington was onthe staff and played in the NCAA Tournament all eight seasons,including four NCAA Sweet 16 berths and the 2001 national championshipseason.

Last season, the Nittany Lions were 26-6 and ranked No. 8 in the finalAssociated Press poll. Penn State advanced to the second round of theNCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame reached the Final Four last season and finished the season 35-2.

McGraw said that Washington holds a special place in Irish lore.

“Coquese was in one of my first recruiting classes,” McGraw said.“Like hiring Niele, it was one of the easiest decisions I ever made.‘Oh, gosh. I need an assistant. Let’s see. Coquese. OK.’

“Coquese is really, really, really smart. She went to Notre Dame LawSchool while she was playing in the WNBA. She’s been somebody who Ialways thought would have a great future in coaching.”

Penn State, which won the Big Ten regular-season title last season,owns a 5-0 lead over Notre Dame in the all-time series. Maggie Lucas,a 5-foot-10 junior guard, averaged 20.1 points a game last season.

“Maggie Lucas might be the best shooter in the country,” McGraw said.“She was the Big Ten Player of the Year, and someone who can reallyscore. She is a really a high-powered offensive player.

“Penn State runs a lot of things through her. We probably haven’t seena guard like her in a while. We’ve seen some really good players inthe Big East, but we haven’t seen a player like her.”

Staff writer Curt Rallo:



Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw embraces the campus changes that will bring her program a new practice facility. (AP photo)