STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coach Coquese Washington admitted to being nervous in the days leading up to the Lady Lions’ game against No. 4 Notre Dame.
After all, it was going to be the first time Washington would go up against Muffet McGraw, her former coach and mentor as an assistant coach with the Fighting Irish.
“Leading into this game, I was really emotional about it,” Washington said after Notre Dame beat the 10th-ranked Lady Lions 77-67 on Wednesday night in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game. “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.”
Ariel Edwards scored 18 points for the Lady Lions (5-2). Dara Taylor added 14 points and Talia East 12.
Unlike Washington, McGraw said her emotions weren’t as positive.
“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 one-time point guard.
“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.
Natalie Achonwa had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead Notre Dame (7-0).
Jewell Loyd scored 17 points, Kayla McBride had 13 and Taya Reimer 12 as the Irish led by 14 points at halftime and didn’t let Penn State get closer than nine in the second half.
“I thought Natalie Achonwa had a great second half and I thought Jewell and (McBride’s) defense on Maggie Lucas was the key to the game,” 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.”