STATE COLLEGE - Penn State introduced Coquese Washington as head women's basketball coach and turned the established program over to a successful former player and career assistant without head-coaching experience.

Washington had been an assistant to head coach Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame for 8 years before getting hired yesterday at Penn State, capping what she described as a whirlwind courtship that spanned just over a week.

"When you hear the name Penn State, your eyes are going to get big, and you think, 'Wow,' " Washington said at a news conference at Beaver Stadium. "There's something wrong with your heart if it's not beating right."

She takes over for Rene Portland, who stepped down in March after winning 606 games and leading the Lady Lions to 21 NCAA Tournament appearances over 27 seasons. Her resignation came more than a month after settling a discrimination lawsuit from a former player who claimed that Portland had a "no-lesbian" policy.

"We think she just fit very well with Penn State," athletic director Tim Curley said of Washington. "We have a certain thing here, certain people can do well here. We have certain values to live by . . . It's all about fit."

Washington was instrumental in developing guards at Notre Dame.

She played at Notre Dame from 1989 to '93, helping the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1992. She joined the coaching staff in 1999 and assisted McGraw in leading Notre Dame to the 2001 NCAA title.

Washington played professionally in the now-defunct ABL and the WNBA, where she guided the Houston Comets to the 2000 WNBA title. She has a law degree from Notre Dame, and served as the first president of the WNBA Players Association. *