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PHILADELPHIA – Penn coach Mike McLaughlin jumped at the chance last spring to bring a top team into the Palestra to face his squad.
With Notre Dame looking to get a game in coach Muffet McGraw's hometown, McLaughlin saw an opportunity to help his program grow. Despite a 76-54 loss to the fifth-ranked Irish on Saturday, McLaughlin was happy with his decision.
"To bring in a top five team in the Palestra with all the history, for Penn basketball this was awesome for us," McLaughlin said. "I think it was awesome for our program to get a team like that in our facility. Hopefully we've done enough today to get some people to come back."
McLaughlin was also happy with how his team competed.
"The reality is we're playing against a talented team and successful program," he said. "There's no moral victories. The things we could control we did really well. To sit here and I told them to compete at this level for 40 minutes is a tremendous accomplishment."
McLaughlin hopes the effort will carry over for the rest of the season when the Quakers won't have to face such talented opponents.
This was the first time that the Irish had played at the Palestra since the 1981-82 season. After the morning shootaround, the team walked the hallowed halls of the basketball cathedral and checked out the history of Philadelphia basketball.
"It's really special to be back in Philly," McGraw said. "It's such a great town. It's a great building to be in and the tradition is unbelievable here. We're going to go downtown and see a little of history on our way to the airport."
Nestled among photos of Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain, the players found the plaque commemorating McGraw's induction into the Big Five Hall of Fame in 1990. She starred a few miles away at Saint Joseph's in the late 1970s.
"We saw Kobe's picture and saw Coach McGraw's old picture, it's really cool," said Kayla McBride, who led the Irish with 15 points. "I think every place is a little different with a different feel. It's a little older than gyms we've played in, but it's pretty cool."
There haven't been too many top women's teams to play at the Palestra. In fact, this was believed to be the first time a top five women's team had played at the arena since Connecticut faced Saint Joseph's a decade ago.
The game marked the return of Notre Dame forward Natalie Achonwa, who missed the first three games while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee. The senior was supposed to miss at least a month, but returned a little sooner.
She started for the Irish (4-0) and had four points in 14 minutes.
"Achonwa looked a little rusty and we played her a little more than I wanted to," McGraw said.
Katy Allen and Sydney Stipanovich each scored 11 to lead Penn (0-2).
The contest was Notre Dame's first road game of the season.
The Irish hadn't regressed without their star forward, winning their first three games by an average of nearly 40 points. More impressively, they were averaging 50 rebounds. They had more trouble with the Quakers, only outrebounding them 43-37.
Notre Dame got off to a slow start before building a 19-8 advantage midway through the first half. Just as it looked as the Irish were going to blow the game open, the Quakers rallied. Melanie Lockett's foul-line jumper with 7:33 left capped a 9-2 burst and brought Penn within 21-17.
Notre Dame led 25-20 before closing the half with nine of the final 11 points, capped by a nifty pass from Lindsay Allen to Taya Reimer for a lay-in just before the break.
Penn cut the deficit to nine early in the second half before Notre Dame put the game away with a 15-4 run.
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