PHILADELPHIA – It was a special day at The Palestra, as the University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team welcomed the No. 5 team in the country, Notre Dame, to The Palestra. Led by its longtime coach Muffet McGraw, a Philadelphia native, the Fighting Irish generated enough interest to draw an energetic crowd of 1,025 to the hallowed gym.
In the end, Notre Dame (4-0), which was making its first trip to the Cathedral of College Basketball since 1981, got the expected win, 76-54. However, Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin had to be pleased with what he saw on Saturday.
Penn (0-2) battled the Fighting Irish all night. The Quakers only allowed the bigger and more athletic Irish a six-rebound advantage (43-37), and while the sample size is only four games, Penn held ND's high-octance offense to its lowest scoring total this season.
At the other end, Penn got a balanced attack -- three scoring in double figures, nine scoring overall. However, this was a game where the numbers didn’t totally tell the story. How else to explain the Quakers' most important player on Saturday might have been senior captain Meghan McCullough (two points)? Thanks to her, Penn had little trouble with Notre Dame’s various pressure defenses.
Freshman Sydney Stipanovich, playing just her second collegiate game, tied for team-high honors in both points (11) and rebounds (6). Junior Katy Allen also scored 11 points, while senior captain Alyssa Baron had 10 on a tough shooting night (not surprising, given that she squared off with the Irish’s All-America candidate, Kayla McBride). Baron also had five assists. Junior Kara Bonenberger was also notable with her effort, as she finished with six points and six boards before fouling out.
Penn was up 8-6 after a Baron jumper, but Notre Dame’s fast-paced offense needed just eight seconds to tie it back up. That jump-started the Irish on a 13-point streak, and they never looked back. The run covered nearly eight full minutes before Baron finally ended the Quaker skid with a three-pointer.
That brought the Red and Blue back to life. Senior captain Courtney Wilson hit a jumper at the top of the key to make the score 19-13, and then after Michaela Mabrey scored a layup for the Irish, Allen and Melanie Lockett hit back-to-back baskets that made the score 21-17 at the eight-minute media timeout.
Notre Dame doubled its lead back up to eight off baskets from Ariel Braker and Lindsay Allen, but Allen hit a trey for Penn to make the score 25-20. It was still just 27-22 with a little over two minutes left in the half, but ND scored the last seven points of the period to make the score 34-22 at the break.
Penn got within nine early in the second half on a Kathleen Roche three-pointer, but Notre Dame scored 15 of the game’s next 19 points to essentially put this one away. When Madison Cable’s layup went in with 13:10 left, the score was 51-31 in favor of the Irish.
Penn’s final charge came at that point, as Allen scored a layup and then Stipanovich converted an old-fashioned three-point play to make the score 51-36. However, Notre Dame went on a 12-3 run after that to build what would be its largest lead in the game at 63-39.
The spread was under 20 as the game went inside a minute, but Notre Dame scored four in a row before Penn freshman Stephanie Cheney closed out the scoring with a foul shot in the waning seconds.
Penn returns to action on Monday, Dec. 2 as the Quakers play their first Big 5 game of the 2013-14 season at La Salle. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.