Notre Dame women's basketball: Irish off, but good enough

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA - Notre Dame freshman point guard Lindsay Allen stuffed a shot by University of Pennsylvania’s Megan McCullough, quickly grabbed the ball, and raced up court. She sprinted up the lane, and as two defenders collapsed on her, she dished to Kayla McBride in the corner. McBride then hit a 3 to spark a 7-0 run at the end of the first half that the Irish badly needed.

Allen’s coast-to-coast hustle play helped Notre Dame bolt from a 27-22 lead to a 34-22 halftime edge, and sparked the No. 5 Fighting Irish to a 76-54 victory on Saturday in a college women’s basketball played at Philadelphia’s fabled Palestra.

Notre Dame (4-0) returns to South Bend for a home game against No. 25 DePaul on Tuesday night (7 p.m. tipoff). Penn dropped to 0-2.

Kayla McBride led the Irish with 15 points and nine rebounds. Taya Reimer and Michaela Mabrey came off the bench to score 14 and 13 points respectively. Jewell Loyd scored 12 points for Notre Dame and Allen had eight points and seven assists.

Notre Dame post Natalie Achonwa, who missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury, started and played 14 minutes. She scored four points and had three rebounds and three assists.

Katy Allen and Sydney Stipanovich led Penn with 11 points each.

“I was really impressed with Lindsay Allen,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought she looked like a veteran out there. She had such great poise. She ran the team, took care of the ball, made some baskets when we needed them. I thought she was phenomenal. I thought she looked like a veteran on a day when the rest of the team looked very young. Our veterans were really young.

“Natalie Achonwa, coming off the injury, four weeks off ... I figured she would be a little rusty. Michaela Mabrey came off the bench and gave us some great minutes. Kayla McBride made some huge baskets for us.”

Penn, which lost to St. Francis 56-51 in its opener, played a physical game inside and kept the Irish from dominating on the boards. In its first three games, Notre Dame outrebounded its opponents 51.7 to 25.0, and had an advantage of 22.7 to 6.2 in second-chance points. On Saturday, Notre Dame outrebounded Penn only 23-19 in the first half, and was even in second-chance points in the first 20 minutes at 2-2. The Irish finished outrebounding Penn 43-37, and had an 8-7 edge in second-chance points.

“Penn played hard,” McGraw said. “They played harder than we did. They played with a lot of toughness. I was really impressed with their intensity. I was really surprised with the rebounding. I just didn’t think our posts, except for Ariel Braker, did their job. I thought Jewell (Loyd) could have rebounded more, but mostly it was the posts.

“It was the first road game. In the past, we’ve been the same on the road as we’ve been at home. We’ve never really seen a difference. I think we were a little unprepared for how bad we looked, and the lack of aggressiveness. I thought that we just kind of sat back a lot. I don’t know what it was.”

Notre Dame used a 13-0 run to grab a 19-8 lead. The Irish let Penn close to 27-22 before a 7-0 run highlighted by Allen’s coast-to-coast play led the Irish surge to a 34-22 halftime lead. Notre Dame led by as many as 24 points, 63-39, with 9:02 left in the game, but Penn fought back.

“I was really proud of our group,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought we really played hard for 40 minutes. That’s something we really talked about. We tried to set some attainable goals and give ourselves a chance to hang in there, and I thought we did that. One of the things was not allowing run-outs, and they got a few, but that’s their talent level. I thought, overall, we competed really, really hard at both ends of the court, and on the glass.”

When the Irish struggled offensively in the half-court offense, McBride stepped up to swish mid-range jumpers. She finished 6-of-13, including 2-of-2 from 3-point range, on a day when the Irish were 29-of-67 shooting overall (43 percent).

“I noticed that we weren’t hitting like we normally were, so I tried to get in the flow of the offense and find open shots and find open people,” McBride said. “I think they just out-worked us. Playing on the road, you have to bring a different mentality, a different toughness. You’re playing on somebody else’s homecourt.”

Mabrey brought some consistency to the offense with 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

“I thought that Kayla really stepped up and (Michaela Mabrey) really stepped up and took a load off of Jewell in terms of scoring, and we really needed that,” McGraw said. “I was disappointed in the rebounding and the defense. I honestly didn’t notice (extra defensive attention on Loyd). I just felt like she was off from the tip and never recovered, and I’m not sure what it was. There defense was good on her when she had the ball, but I thought she settled for some bad shots.

“I thought early we missed a lot of inside shots. We were around the basket quite a bit in the first half and just couldn’t get it to drop. We missed free throws (13-20) ... we were uncharacteristically off. I think we need to work harder and be a little more aggressive.”

At The Palestra

NOTRE DAME (4-0): Natalie Achonwa 2-4 0-0 4, Ariel Braker 1-4 0-4 2, Lindsay Allen 3-4 2-2 8, Kayla McBride 6-13 1-2 15, Jewell Loyd 4-13 4-4 12, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Taya Reimer 5-9 4-4 14, Madison Cable 2-5 0-1 5, Michaela Mabrey 5-9 1-1 13, Hannah Huffman 0-3 1-2 1, Markisha Wright 1-2 0-0 2, Diamond Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-67 13-20 76.

PENN (0-2): Kara Bonenberger 2-8 2-2 6, Katy Allen 5-9 0-0 11, Alyssa Baron 4-16 1-2 10, Kathleen Roche 2-3 0-0 5, Meghan McCullough 1-6 0-0 2, Jackie Falconer 0-0 0-0 0, Brooklyn Juday 0-1 0-0 0, Stephanie Cheney 0-0 1-2 1, Melanie Lockett 1-2 0-0 2, Sydney Stipanovich 4-6 3-4 11, Sade Gibbons 0-0 0-0 0, Rayne Connell 0-0 0-2 0, Renee Busch 0-2 0-0 0, Courtney Wilson 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 21-56 9-14 54.

Halftime — Notre Dame 34-22. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 5-8 (McBride 2-2, Mabrey 2-3, Cable 1-2, Loyd 0-1), Penn 3-12 (Allen 1-1, Roche 1-2, Baron 1-3, Lockett 0-1, Bonenberger 0-1, Busch 0-1, Juday 0-1, McCullough 0-2). Fouled Out — Bonenberger. Rebounds — Notre Dame 43 (Braker, McBride 9), Penn 37 (Bonenberger, Stipanovich 6). Assists — Notre Dame 23 (Allen 7), Penn 15 (Baron 5). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 16, Penn 18. A — 1,025.

Notre Dame's Kayla McBride celebrates after she scored against Penn in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday Nov. 23, 2013, in Philadelphia. AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr