If there's one thing we learned today, it's that this team can flat-out play.
Few expected Penn women's basketball to beat, or even hang with, No. 3 Notre Dame. But that didn't stop the Quakers from playing their hearts out in a 66-54 loss. And in that effort, they showcased why they are once again the favorites to win the Ivy title.
It starts with the defense. Under coach Mike McLaughlin, the Red and Blue (2-4) have always been defined by a stalwart defensive unit, and today was no different. The Fighting Irish (8-1) have one of the best scoring offenses in the nation, averaging 84.4 points, but the Red and Blue shut them down.
And it wasn't like Notre Dame didn't shoot well. The Irish shot 50% from the field — but Penn's defense often got to them before they could shoot. The Quakers had a season-high 12 steals and forced Notre Dame into committing 22 turnovers. The full-court press, led by an especially disruptive Anna Ross, created confusion early, and caused plenty of bad decisions from the Irish.
"The press, I thought we were really careless with the ball, and that forced us into 22 turnovers, which was not a good day for the Irish," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Penn held the Fighting Irish to just 42 points in the first three quarters. It was only in the fourth quarter that Notre Dame found its groove and pulled away for good. All told, the Irish finished with a season-low 66 points.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Quakers struggled to establish themselves against a bigger, quicker, and stronger Notre Dame defense. But that was expected, and there were certainly some bright spots that bode well for conference play.
The first of which was the stellar passing from Anna Ross. The senior point guard had a tough shooting day, going 1-for-12 from the field, but she did an excellent job slinging the ball around the court and finding open shooters, finishing with a game-high six assists.
"Anna struggled to score the ball, but she ran the show tonight," McLaughlin said. "She does what she does, she battles, competes, makes the team better."
But the star of the offense today was undoubtedly senior guard Lauren Whitlatch, who led the team with 18 points on 50 percent shooting from three, securing a career-high six three-pointers in the process. Whitlatch's performance against the Irish was exactly what the Quakers need from her going forward— a sharpshooter who provides the Red and Blue with a clutch three when they need it.
There were certainly things that could have gone better. The team shot only 31 percent from the field, and Notre Dame exploited the holes down low in Penn's zone. But the Quakers hung tough with one of the best teams in the country, and with that they sent a message to the rest of the Ancient Eight:
Bring it on.