It was always going to be a tough one.
Penn women’s basketball hosted the No. 3 team in the nation at the Palestra on Saturday afternoon and fell to Notre Dame, 66-54.
The Quakers (2-4) only trailed by eight points entering the fourth quarter and held the NCAA’s second highest-scoring team to a season-low 66 points, but in the end the Fighting Irish (9-1) were simply too powerful to keep up with. Strong first and fourth quarters from the visitors, in which they scored 22 and 24 points, respectively, saw them edge Penn despite struggling to handle the host’s defense in the middle frames.
Just 17 points were scored between both teams in a tight third quarter. The Fighting Irish put up only 20 in the middle 20 minutes of the game. Despite the final result, it was Notre Dame who left disappointed, and the Quakers who held their heads high.
“I thought Penn did a really good job of controlling the game,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought they had the tempo right where they wanted it. They wanted the score in the 60s; we wanted it in the 80s. They won.”
“I’m proud of this group, outside of the final score — we don’t want to play for moral victories, but I’m proud of the way we competed and represented Penn,” Quakers coach Mike McLaughlin said.
Other than a 19-10 run over five minutes of the fourth quarter and a 13-5 run over four minutes in the first, the Quakers outscored the Fighting Irish over the remaining 31 minutes of the game. McLaughlin expressed remorse, wishing to get those minutes back, but was nonetheless proud of how his team handled one of the NCAA’s powerhouses.
Senior guard Lauren Whitlatch had an explosive night from behind the arc, scoring 18 points with a career-high six three-pointers off 50 percent shooting from downtown. Whitlatch’s hot shooting kept the Quakers in the game for most of the night, even when their deficit reached as high as 20. The rest of the team averaged just 26 percent from the field.
In the frontcourt, the game was rather one-sided. Notre Dame put up 40 of its 66 points in the paint, where its two bigs got the better of senior captain Michelle Nwokedi and rookie Eleah Parker. Nwokedi managed to record four blocks but also recorded just four points. Parker mustered up 10 thanks to efforts by the Fighting Irish to shut Nwokedi down at the expense of giving Penn’s other big more space.
Despite being out-sized and out-played, the Quakers’ defense still forced Notre Dame into 22 turnovers, something that McGraw lamented after the game.
They also limited their guests to just 52 shots to their 69, but because the Fighting Irish shot a clinical 50 percent on the night, they were able to find their way past a defense that McGraw noted they hated to play against.
Moral victories aside, the contest also gave the Quakers yet another good chance to see the highest-level competition in preparation for another potential NCAA Tournament bid come March, should they win the Ivy League Tournament again. After facing Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, McLaughlin expressed pleasure at the experience his team was getting playing against the very best.
For now, though, Penn must turn its attention to Monday night, when it travels to Saint Joseph’s for its second Big 5 game of the season. The Quakers lost their first intracity competition of the season with a 66-59 defeat at La Salle in November but will look to notch their first win in just two days’ time.