A double-digit loss isn’t usually something from which to build.
But for Penn women’s basketball a 76-54 loss to No. 5 Notre Dame (4-0) may serve as a springboard for the rest of the season.
“First of all I was really proud of our group, I thought we really played hard for 40 minutes, which was something we really talked about before this game and going forward to have success this year,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.
There are no moral victories, but I think what we could control, we did.”
Although Penn (0-2) never really threatened the Fighting Irish lead after the 15-minute mark in the first half, the consistent effort, particularly on the defensive end helped frustrate Notre Dame throughout the day.
“Penn played hard,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “They played harder than we did. They played with a lot of toughness and they really impressed with me with their intensity.”
Notre Dame, which had been averaging 92 points per game in their first three contests, were frustrated by the Red and Blue defense and rebounding.
“I was really surprised with the rebounding, I think the post – except for Ariel [Braker] – really didn’t do their job today,” said McGraw, who has led the Fighting Irish to the Final Four the last three years.
The Quakers also held Jewell Loyd in check for majority of the game as she scored just 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting. The sophomore guard, who was named Big East Freshman of the Year last season couldn’t break down the the Quakers defense.
“I saw Jewel play a lot in AAU, and she’s a phenomenal athlete,” McLaughlin said. “We just tried to keep her in front of us and hope she misses many times. It really wasn’t complicated, she’s talented.”
“I think it starts with effort and willing defenders,” McLaughlin said. “Defensively our rotations were good, they scored, their skill level is high, but I thought structurally we did well what we could.”
The Quakers opened up the game strong and were tied with the Fighting Irish 8-8, going into the second media timeout. However, an 11-0 run by Notre Dame opened up a sizable margin.
Coming out of a Penn timeout, Alyssa Baron hit a step-back three pointer that sparked a 7-2 run to pull the Quakers to within four. The two teams battled back and forth until Notre Dame went on a 7-0 run to end the half and any hopes of a Penn upset.
“They went on a run, but we didn’t let them get too far ahead, we always bounced back,” guard Megan McCullough said. “We got easy looks, we ran our sets well and were able to push the ball and get into a flow. We have a lot to learn, but it’s a great stepping stone against a talented team.”
Yet the Quakers didn’t give up in the second half and continued to battle against a very talented Notre Dame team. Freshman forward Stephanie Stepanovich tied for a team-high 11 points, all of which came in the second half.
Never before had a top-five team played against Penn women’s basketball at the Palestra. Saturday’s visit by Notre Dame proved to be a great litmus test. Just two years ago, the Quakers lost to a similarly talented Notre Dame, 69-38 and were outscored 40-15 in the first half.
This year’s Quakers would not let such a one-sided half ruin their performance. After a two-week layoff following a difficult loss to St. Francis, Penn made progress that it hopes will follow them in the future.
“Bringing a top-five team to the Palestra … for women’s basketball and Penn basketball, this was awesome for us,” McLaughlin said.
“We know the value for what this does for us in league [play], but more importantly for Penn I thought our girls captured the moment and stepped up to the challenge.”