Notre Dame women's basketball: Friend or foe, Irish women are ready

South Bend Tribune

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw prefers not to schedule games against former assistants or former players who are in the coaching ranks.

She doesn’t like being put in competitive situations against people for whom she has strong feelings.

This season, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big Ten didn’t give her a choice.

The Irish were paired against league favorite Penn State, coached by former Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington, in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The No. 4 Irish (6-0) play at No. 10 Penn State (5-1) on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. The Big Ten Network has the telecast.

“It’s going to be hard,” McGraw said of the match-up. “It’s going to be strange looking down the sideline and seeing a friend. I’m just glad it’s a game in December that both teams will learn a lot from, but then we’ll both move on and help each other the rest of the year.”

Washington graduated from Notre Dame in 1993. She played for McGraw’s first NCAA Tournament team at Notre Dame and is first in all-time steals per game (2.7) in the Irish record books. She earned a law degree from Notre Dame, and played in the WNBA.

After her playing career ended, Washington was hired as an assistant by McGraw. In Washington’s eight seasons as an assistant coach, the Irish were 188-69, made the NCAA Tournament eight seasons, reached the Sweet Sixteen four seasons, and won the national title in 2001. She coached five All-Americans, five WNBA players, including current Irish assistant Niele Ivey.

McGraw said that she could see early on that Washington had the skills to be a coach at an elite level.

“Coquese played point guard, and generally point guards have a pretty good head for the game, in terms of what everybody is supposed to be doing,” McGraw said. “Coquese is very smart and has a very, very high basketball IQ. She was also very steady as a player. Her demeanor was always steady, and she was always a student of the game. She watched a lot of film and studied it.

“Penn State is really doing well. She inherited a little bit of a mess when she went in. They came through a lot of adversity. She’s really built the program back to the elite level.”

Maggie Lucas, a 5-foot-10 senior guard who is a national player of the year candidate, leads the Nittany Lions with a scoring average of 22.2 points a game. Ariel Edwards, a 6-3 senior forward, averages 12.2 points a game.

“This will probably be the best team we’ve played so far, and we’re playing on their home court,” McGraw said of Penn State. “Maggie Lucas is experienced, and she is shooting the ball extremely well. I don’t know that one person can defend her. The team has to be aware of where she is all the time.

“She has a really quick release on her shot. She’s really good at getting open and using screens. She works really hard. We’re going to try different people on her. We’ll try to keep a fresh body on her as much as we can.

“Their post players are really big. They are so much bigger than us at every position. Their inside game, they have a lot of talent. They’re certainly not a one-man team.”

Notre Dame boasts a balanced attack. The Irish have six players averaging in double-figures scoring. Sophomore guard Jewell Loyd leads the Irish with 17.2 points a game, followed by Kayla McBride (15.5), Taya Reimer (12.2), Lindsay Allen (10.8), Natalie Achonwa (10.7), and Michaela Mabrey (10.5).

Production off the bench has been valuable.

“When you have a player the caliber of Taya Reimer coming off the bench, she has to be the best sixth man in basketball across the country,” McGraw said.

McBride is shooting 36-of-77 (.468 percent), and is 7-of-12 from 3-point range (.583). Last season, McBride averaged 15.5 points a game, and was 237-of-523 (.453), including 26-of-82 from 3-point range (.317). In her last four games, McBride is 24-of-43 (.558), including 5-of-7 from 3-point range (.714).

“Kayla has really been shooting the ball well lately,” McGraw said. “She’s being really patient with her shot. When she’s open, she’s deadly from just about everywhere. She’s shooting it better from the 3-point line than she did last year. She’s got the best pull-up jumper in America.”

Notre Dame battered a solid Duquesne team, 100-61, on Sunday. The Irish used a 14-2 run to open the first half, and a 17-2 run to open the second half.

“I was really happy with the way we attacked right from the start against Duquesne,” McGraw said. “After the (University of Pennsylvania) game, I’ve been a little nervous. We just came out against Duquesne and got right to it. That will be important for us to take the crowd out of it (Wednesday) because I’m sure it will be a big and hostile crowd.”



WHO: No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0) vs. No. 10 Penn State (5-1)

WHERE: Bryce Jordan Center (15,261), University Park, Pa.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

TV: Big Ten Network

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9, 92.1)

ONLINE: www.und.com

TICKETS: Available

WORTH NOTING: Penn State leads the all-time series against Notre Dame, 5-0. ... The last time the two teams met was on Nov. 16, 2006, at Penn State. The Nittany Lions won that game, 75-49. ... Penn State’s only loss of the season was a 71-52 setback at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut. ... The Nittany Lions won the Junkanoo Jam last week, beating Oregon State, 61-56, and Illinois State, 72-60. ... Notre Dame boasts a 6-0 record for the third time in the past six seasons and the seventh time in school history. ... Notre Dame has won 29 consecutive regular-season games, dating back to a 73-61 loss to then-defending national champion Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012. ... Notre Dame has won 23 consecutive regular-season road games since a 94-81 loss at Baylor on Nov. 20, 2011.

WORTH QUOTING: “We’re going to learn a lot about our team. There’s also some conference pride going into this game, but really, we’re trying to see where we are right now.” — Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at Penn State