Dec. 04, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – After building a double-digit lead in the first half, Notre Dame didn’t let Penn State get close in the final 20 minutes.
Natalie Achonwa had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish in a 77-67 victory over the No. 10 Lady Lions on Wednesday night in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game.
“I thought Natalie Achonwa had a great second half and I thought Jewell and K Mac’s (McBride’s) defense on Maggie Lucas was the key to the game,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Ariel Edwards scored 18 points for the Lady Lions (5-2). Dara Taylor added 14 points and Talia East 12.
It was the first time McGraw coached against Penn State’s Coquese Washington, who played point guard for Notre Dame in the early 1990s and then was a Fighting Irish assistant coach.
“Leading into this game, I was really emotional about it,” Washington said. “Then this afternoon getting dressed for the game, I decided to take the advice I give our players all the time – embrace and enjoy these moments.”
McGraw’s emotions were just the opposite.
“I didn’t like it at all. It was a hard game that way,” she said.
However, the 27th-year head coach was full of praise for her former player.
“She’s the best young coach in the country right now and when a couple people retire, I think she’s going to be the one that people look to,” McGraw said.
Penn State leading scorer Maggie Lucas, who came in averaging 22.2 points per game, was held to just seven points on 1-for-8 shooting.
On this night, Notre Dame’s rebounding prowess, in a game in which neither team shot the ball particularly well, was the difference. The Fighting Irish outrebounded the Lady Lions 44-36, including 19 at the offensive end.
“It killed us. It absolutely killed us,” Washington said. “If we could cut that in half we would probably have had a chance. That is one of the things they do well. This isn’t an aberration.”
Achonwa said that’s an always an emphasis for Notre Dame, which also got 10 rebounds from Taya Reimer.
“I think one of our major keys to every game is rebounding,” Achonwa said. “We did grab a couple of offensive rebounds, but I think it was also because we were missing a lot so we kind of put ourselves in position to rebound.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame’s 7-0 record ties for the third-best mark to open a season in program history, matching similar debuts in 2004-05 and 2008-09; it’s also the best start to a season for the Fighting Irish since 2009-10, when they began the year 15-0 … Notre Dame is 3-0 against ranked opponents this season and 30-5 (.857) against Top 25 squads since the start of the 2011-12 campaign … the Fighting Irish have won their last four true road games against Top 10 opponents, dating back to the start of last season (this was their first road win over a top-10 foe since the 2013 BIG EAST Championship final, a 61-59 win at No. 3 Connecticut on March 12, 2013) … Notre Dame has won 30 consecutive regular season games, stretching back a full calendar year following a 73-61 loss to No. 3 Baylor on Dec. 5, 2012, at Purcell Pavilion … the Fighting Irish have won a school-record 24 consecutive regular season road games (and 31 of their last 36 road games overall, including postseason play), with their last regular season road loss coming on Nov. 20, 2011, a 94-81 setback at top-ranked Baylor in the Preseason WNIT championship game … Notre Dame picks up its first win in six all-time meetings against Penn State, and first in three visits to the PSU campus (the Lady Lions had been one of only three opponents the Fighting Irish had never defeated in their 37-year program history with a minimum of three series games played, the others being Baylor (0-4) and Colorado (0-3)) … Notre Dame matched its series high for points against Penn State, having also scored 77 on Dec. 1, 1995, in an 86-77 loss to the Lady Lions at the Kona Women’s Basketball Classic in Kona, Hawaii … conversely, PSU’s 67 points were its second-lowest total in the series, behind only a 55-49 win over Notre Dame on March 27, 2004, in the NCAA Championship East Regional semifinals at the Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center … the Fighting Irish improve to 48-49 (.495) all-time against Big Ten Conference opponents (41-34, .547, in the Muffet McGraw era), including wins in 20 of their last 26 games against the league … Notre Dame also now holds an 18-26 (.409) road record against Big Ten teams and has won its last five road contests against that conference … the Fighting Irish shot a season-low .370 from the field, but a season-high .864 from the free throw line (previous marks were both against Michigan State on Nov. 11 at Purcell Pavilion, with a .425 field goal percentage and .750 free throw percentage) … Notre Dame has had at least four players score in double figures for the sixth time this season (all but Michigan State) … senior tri-captains Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa both moved up one spot on the school’s all-time scoring list on Wednesday — McBride is now 18th with 1,313 points, edging by Margaret Nowlin (1,312 from 1988-92), while Achonwa now stands 27th with 1,108 points, passing Danielle Green (1,106 from 1995-2000) … Achonwa jumped into the top 10 on Notre Dame’s career rebounding list with 746 boards, putting her 10th all-time and passing Shari Matvey (742 from 1979-83) … Achonwa registered her second consecutive double-double, and 22nd of her career, taking over sole possession of 10th place on the Notre Dame all-time list (Heidi Bunek had 21 double-doubles from 1985-89) … Achonwa is the first Fighting Irish player with double-doubles in consecutive games since she herself did it in three consecutive games during last year’s NCAA Championship in the second round at Iowa (11 points/14 rebounds), as well as the Norfolk Regional semifinal vs. Kansas (17 points/10 rebounds) and Norfolk Regional final against fifth-ranked Duke (17 points/13 rebounds) … Achonwa also is the first Notre Dame player with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a game since March 24, 2013, when McBride tallied 22 points and 10 rebounds in an NCAA Championship first-round win over Tennessee-Martin in Iowa City, Iowa … freshman forward Taya Reimer notched her team-high third double-double of the season, with all three coming against ranked opponents (19 points/13 rebounds vs. No. 19/18 Michigan State on Nov. 11; 15 points/14 rebounds vs. No. 25 DePaul on Nov. 26) … Reimer also collected a season-high three steals, one more than her previous best at Penn on Nov. 23 … senior tri-captain Ariel Braker had a career-high five assists (and no turnovers), one more than her previous high against fifth-ranked Duke on April 2, 2013, in the NCAA Norfolk Regional final … Notre Dame has won all seven games this season by double figures and has not trailed by more than six points in any of those outings (that margin coming Wednesday night, when Penn State took an early 13-7 lead with 14:09 left in the first half) … the Fighting Irish earned the 797th win in school history, inching closer to becoming the 27th Division I women’s basketball program with 800 career victories (Notre Dame currently stands at 797-316, .716, since its varsity debut in 1977-78).