Philadelphia, PA -- To be honest, I had the first line of this article prepared before the Notre Dame versus Penn game started. “The No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes down the University of Penn Quakers Saturday afternoon at The Palestra.”
And Notre Dame did just that in a 66-54 win.
But while the Fighting Irish had the fan support in Philly, with half of the crowd wearing green and gold, was the team too confident coming into the game against a Big 5 Ivy League school?
While Notre Dame’s stat sheet doesn’t look bad and they did win, the most important ingredient was missing -- energy.
“No energy at all. With Mikayla Vaughn out, it’s hard to get that spark off the bench, so we need to find somebody to give us that energy,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.
Notre Dame led by just seven points at halftime. And with no discredit to Penn’s program, Notre Dame just wasn’t too far ahead for a nationally ranked team facing off against an Ivy League school.
The Quakers not only hung in, but plainly out-hustled the Fighting Irish for the first three quarters.
They had nine steals in the first half and outscored Notre Dame 14-11 in the second quarter while keeping them to nine points in the third quarter.
However, things did turn around for the Fighting Irish in the fourth quarter, as they scored 24 points and opened with a 7-0 run.
Notre Dame has one of the top offenses in the nation, outscoring opponents by an average of 18.2 points, but Penn kept them under that average with a 12-point win.
Penn senior guard Anna Ross commented about the exceptional defensive performance.
“We held Notre Dame to a season-low, and we tend to do that with bigger teams…and it gives us a confidence boost that if we stay true to ourselves, we can hold teams to low scores,” Ross said.
And while four Notre Dame players are averaging in double-digits this season, just two players hit that mark today, including leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey.
Maybe it was Notre Dame’s confidence being ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and No. 2 in the coaches poll. Or perhaps the Irish are tired of being on the road, as they had their first home game in 25 days this past Wednesday against Michigan State.
But one thing is certain; the Irish must start playing like the Fighting Irish before the fourth quarter to ensure they stay a national contender.
After their eighth road game of the season, the Fighting Irish are heading back to Illinois for three consecutive home games, beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17 against DePaul.
Meanwhile, the Quakers have a quick turnaround to resume Big 5 action against St. Joseph’s University Monday, Dec. 11. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on Hawk Hill.