UPDATE: Notre Dame women’s basketball: Irish have answers for Penn State runs

South Bend Tribune

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Notre Dame’s first appearance in the Atlantic Coast Conference/Big Ten Challenge may be more memorable for the Irish firmly establishing themselves as a power team in a power conference.

No. 4 Notre Dame held off No. 10 Penn State, 77-67, on the Nittany Lions’ home court. It was Notre Dame’s third victory of the season against a ranked opponent. The Irish previously beat No. 18 Michigan State and No. 25 DePaul.

Notre Dame’s victory helped the ACC score five victories in the six Challenge games played on Wednesday. There are six games in the Challenge scheduled for Thursday night. The ACC has won five of the ACC/Big Ten Challenges in women’s basketball, and one ended in a 6-6 tie.

Notre Dame’s victory was its first against Penn State. The Nittany Lions had won the previous five meetings. The schools had not met since 2006.

Natalie Achonwa scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Irish attack. Freshman Taya Reimer also added 12 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame. Jewell Loyd scored 17 points and Kayla McBride scored 13. Ariel Edwards led Penn State with 18 points.

Notre Dame (7-0) returns to Purcell Pavilion to play UCLA (3-4) on Saturday at noon EST. Penn State, coached by former Irish point guard and assistant coach Coquese Washington, is 5-2. The Nittany Lions’ other loss was 71-52 at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut.

“It’s really good for us,” McGraw said of beating a Top 10 team on its home court. “We beat Michigan State, and then they probably dropped out of the Top 25. This is a team that is a definite contender for the Big Ten title. This was really a huge win for us.”

Notre Dame led by as many as 19 in the first half, and 17 in the second half, but Penn State sliced the lead to 10. After Penn State closed to 56-46, Michaela Mabrey swished back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Irish to a 62-48 lead with 7:46 left in the game.

“Yeah, that dog-gone Mabrey,” Washington lamented. “We were in zone, so she just got open. When you play zone, you know you’re going to give up shots. With the foul trouble we had, strategically, we had to go zone so we could keep some players we needed on the floor .

“The one three (Mabrey) hit at the end of the shot clock, she was pretty deep. She just got open, and she’s a great shooter. We knew that coming into the game. That’s just a function of a great offense and taking advantage of an opportunity against a zone defense. … It can be a little deflating when they hit the three … but we went on another run after that.”

Penn State narrowed the gap to nine points several times, but the Irish always had an answer down the stretch.

Notre Dame also had an answer defensively throughout the game. The Irish held Penn State Player of the Year candidate Maggie Lucas to seven points, and the Irish drew seven charges.

Penn State star guard Maggie Lucas, who entered the game averaging 22.2 points a game, scored only seven. She didn’t score until she hit a free throw with 5:18 left in the game. Lucas was held scoreless in the first half. Lucas’ career low entering the game was six points against Wisconsin on Jan. 2, 2011.

“I thought Jewell’s (Loyd) and Kayla’s (McBride) defense on Maggie Lucas was the key to the game,” McGraw said. “We were just face-guarding (Lucas) and trying not to let her catch the ball, and then when she came off a screen, we were trying not to double-team her. That was pretty effective in the first half. It wasn’t as effective in the second half, but, overall, I thought it was pretty good.”

Lucas, who scored 18 points against Connecticut, was 1-of-8 shooting and was hampered by foul trouble. She fouled out with 1:18 left in the game and played 29 minutes.

Loyd said she and McBride had plenty of help in locking down Lucas.

“It helped that our teammates always knew where she was, especially in transition,” Loyd said. “We found her early.”

Notre Dame hit only one of its first 11 shots. Penn State took advantage to grab a 13-7 lead, but then the Irish hit back.

Notre Dame shifted into a transition game and sprinted to a 17-4 run for a 24-17 lead. The Irish built a 19-point lead, 42-23, with 1:23 left in the first half, but allowed Penn State to finish with a 5-0 run for a 42-28 halftime edge.

Notre Dame’s 44-36 rebounding advantage was critical, and the Irish turned a 19-9 edge in offensive boards into a 20-12 advantage in second-chance points.

“I think one of the major keys to every game is rebounding,” said Achonwa, who had four offensive rebounds and six defensive boards. “We did grab a couple of offensive rebounds, but it was because we were missing a lot. We put ourselves in position to rebound. I think we could have even done a better job of rebounding, both offensively and defensively.”

Washington said the rebounding was a crucial stat.

“It killed us,” Washington said of Notre Dame’s offensive rebounds. “It absolutely killed us. If we could cut that stat in half, then we probably have a chance. That’s one of the things that they do very well. This wasn’t an aberration at all. They’re a very strong rebounding team. They attack the glass. That certainly was a big factor for them.”

NOTRE DAME (7-0): Natalie Achonwa 8-15 5-7 21, Lindsay Allen 0-1 2-2 2, Kayla McBride 4-15 4-4 13, Jewell Loyd 6-19 4-4 17, Ariel Braker 1-4 1-1 3, Taya Reimer 5-10 2-2 12, Madison Cable 0-1 0-0 0, Michaela Mabrey 3-7 1-2 9, Markisha Wright 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-73 19-22 77.

PENN ST. (5-2): Taylor 5-15 3-3 14, East 4-5 4-4 12, Edwards 7-12 3-3 18, Lucas 1-8 4-4 7, Waldner 3-6 1-2 7, Agee 0-2 0-0 0, Sevillian 0-0 2-2 2, Harris 0-2 2-2 2, Mitchell 2-4 1-2 5, Whitted 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 20-22 67.

Halftime — Notre Dame 42-28. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 4-11 (Mabrey 2-5, Loyd 1-2, McBride 1-3, Cable 0-1), Penn St. 3-9 (Taylor 1-2, Lucas 1-2, Edwards 1-4, Mitchell 0-1). Fouled Out — Lucas. Rebounds — Notre Dame 44 (Achonwa, Reimer 10), Penn St. 36 (East 8). Assists — Notre Dame 17 (Braker 5), Penn St. 9 (Taylor 6). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 21, Penn St. 23. A — 5,805.

Notre Dame guard Jewell Loyd (32) drives to the basket past Penn State's Ariel Edwards (23) and Talia East during Wednesday night's game at College, Pa.