Growing pains are going to be a fact of life for the youthful Penn State women's basketball team this season. That was the case Wednesday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Playing host to their second top-five opponent of the season, the Lady Lions were dealt their second double-digit loss, falling to fourth-ranked Notre Dame, 77-67.
Penn State got 18 points from Ariel Edwards and 14 points and six assists from Dara Taylor, but Notre Dame grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, forced 22 turnovers and clamped down hard on Maggie Lucas. Saddled with foul trouble after picking up her third personal late in the first half, Lucas finished with seven points on 1-of-8 shooting before fouling out with 1:18 left.
"We're a work in progress," coach Coquese Washington said. "We're a team that's probably going to find its rhythm in January. Maybe in February. We've just got so many young pieces, so many inexperienced pieces, so many people in new roles, different roles. Developing a comfort level in a new role is not something that happens necessarily in three or four games, or five or six games. Is there a lot for us to learn? Absolutely."
The 10th-ranked Lady Lions (5-2) had welcomed No. 1 Connecticut earlier this season, and as in that game - a 71-52 loss - they made a spirited run at Notre Dame in the second half after falling way behind in the first. Lucas's first field goal of the night - a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:42 to play - drew Penn State to within nine points, 66-57, but that was as close as the Lady Lions would get.
It was the first meeting between Washington and her mentor, Muffet McGraw. Washington had played for Notre Dame's longtime coach and later served on her staff before leaving for Penn State.
McGraw said she didn't relish facing her protege. "Didn't like it at all," she said. "It was a hard game in that way. There were a couple of times when we broke the timeout and I happened to be looking in that direction. It was a tough game for me."
It was an emotional experience for Washington, too - until game day, at least. "Leading up to the game, I was really emotional about it," she said. "But then this afternoon when I was getting dressed for the game, I just decided I was going to take the advice I give my players all the time. One of the things I always tell them is, embrace and enjoy these moments. I just decided I was going to embrace and enjoy it."
Notre Dame (7-0) had been winless in five games against Penn State, but the two teams hadn't played since 2006, and the Irish had made three trips to the Final Four since then and twice played for the national championship.
Notre Dame started out slowly in this one, missing 10 of its first 11 shots, but Jewell Lloyd and Kayla McBride got the Irish going later in the half, and they were up 42-28 at halftime.
Lloyd posed just as many problems for Penn State on the defensive end as on the offensive end. She shadowed Lucas, helping to hold her scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in the first half.
Natalie Achonwa finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds for Notre Dame, while Lloyd had 17.
Despite the loss, Washington said she was pleased with several aspects of her team's play, including the effort from senior forward Talia East, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. The Lady Lions, Washington said, "have a lot of good parts. It's just a matter of getting comfortable with our chemistry, developing our identity and getting better at a lot of the fundamental aspects of the game."