No. 5 Notre Dame women beat Penn 76-54
Coach Muffet McGraw loves to give her team an educational experience whenever Notre Dame goes on road trips.
The 76-54 win against Penn on Saturday provided an opportunity for McGraw to show the fifth-ranked Irish a history of Philadelphia basketball in their first game at the Palestra in 32 years.
''It's really special to be back in Philly,'' said McGraw, who starred a few miles away at Saint Joseph's in the late 1970s. ''It's such a great town. It's a great building to be in and the tradition is unbelievable here. We're going to go downtown and see a little of history on our way to the airport.''
After the morning shootaround, the team walked the hallowed halls of the basketball cathedral and checked out photos of Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain. The players also found the plaque commemorating McGraw's induction into the Big Five Hall of Fame in 1990.
''We saw Kobe's picture and saw coach McGraw's old picture, it's really cool,'' said Kayla McBride, who led the Irish with 15 points. ''I think every place is a little different with a different feel. It's a little older than gyms we've played in, but it's pretty cool.''
There haven't been too many top women's teams to play at the Palestra. This was believed to be the first time a top five women's team had played at the arena since Connecticut faced Saint Joseph's a decade ago.
''To bring in a top five team in the Palestra with all the history, for Penn basketball this was awesome for us,'' Quakers coach Mike McLaughlin said. ''I think it was awesome for our program to get a team like that in our facility. Hopefully, we've done enough today to get some people to come back.''
Katy Allen and Sydney Stipanovich each scored 11 to lead Penn (0-2).
The game marked the return of Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa, who missed the first three while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee. The senior was supposed to miss at least a month, but returned a little sooner.
She started for the Irish (4-0) and had four points in 14 minutes.
''Achonwa looked a little rusty and we played her a little more than I wanted to,'' McGraw said.
The Irish hadn't regressed without their star forward, winning their first three games by an average of nearly 40 points. More impressively, they were averaging 50 rebounds. They had more trouble with the Quakers, only outrebounding them 43-37.
Notre Dame got off to a slow start before building a 19-8 advantage midway through the first half. Just as it looked as the Irish were going to blow the game open, the Quakers rallied. Melanie Lockett's foul-line jumper with 7:33 left ended a 9-2 burst and brought Penn within 21-17.
Notre Dame led 25-20 before closing the half with nine of the final 11 points, capped by a nifty pass from Lindsay Allen to Reimer for a lay-in just before the break.
Penn cut the deficit to nine early in the second half before Notre Dame put the game away with a 15-4 run.
McGraw had many family members, friends and former teammates in the stands. The last time she was in the Philadelphia area, McGraw won her 700th career game at Villanova last season.
''The crowd was great, the atmosphere was terrific,'' McGraw said.
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