Even with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, the Penn women’s basketball team was unable to catch a break as they will return to a land of heartbreak this weekend.
The Quakers (8-11, 1-4 Ivy) will travel to Harvard (11-8, 4-1)on Friday, a place where third-year coach Mike McLaughlin has watched the Crimson pull out down-to-the-wire games in his two previous trips.
In McLaughlin’s first season, a 1-24 Penn team fell, 55-52, on a three with 1.3 seconds left. Last season, the Crimson survived two overtime periods and 38 points from Alyssa Baron to win, 88-84.
If the Quakers want to avoid repeating history, they will have to bring it offensively.
“For us to shoot a higher percentage, the ball is going to have to get inside,” McLaughlin said, pointing to freshman forward Kara Bonenberger as the only player shooting above 40 percent.
Penn is currently second to last in field-goal percentage and last in three-point shooting percentage in the Ivy League. Despite their lack of success from beyond the arc, the Quakers attempted 33 threes against Brown in their most recent game, which they lost in overtime.
“We’re not a team that shoots [threes] at a high rate anyway,” McLaughlin said. “And when we end up taking 33 of them, that’s never going to work for us.”
He believes the team has often settled for perimeter looks against attacking zone defenses that prevent them from establishing an inside presence.
“We definitely need to get the ball in the post,” Baron said. “That will open up things from the outside, too, so that we’re not shooting as many threes or threes from as deep. I think we just need to focus more on looking at the post in the first place and throwing it in there, making a good pass for them.”
Penn did receive encouraging performances from post players Katy Allen and Bonenberger last weekend. The pair averaged 11 and 8.5 points over the two games, respectively.
“I think Kara kind of struggled a bit for about five or six games, maybe a little bit with her confidence, but I thought she played two really good games [last] weekend, and I think that’s only going to help her,” McLaughlin said. “She’s a confidence kid. And if she feels good about what she’s doing, then I think the sky’s the limit.”
“[Allen’s] role has obviously increased since [starting forward] Jess [Knapp] got hurt, and I think she has handled herself great,” he added.
Penn, mired in a 1-9 slide after a program-best start, will also face a similarly struggling Dartmouth squad Saturday. Something will have to give in a matchup between two teams that each have a lone Ivy win over Columbia.
“Last year, we let that game slip away too,” Baron said, referring to a 68-65 road defeat to the Big Green. “We’re definitely looking to get in there and take advantage of them.”
McLaughlin feels that the team’s attitude has not significantly changed through the season, but acknowledged it’s tough after starting out winning seven of nine games and then losing nine of 10.
It is important, mentally, for the Quakers not only to play well, but also to find a way back into the win column, according to McLaughlin.
“I think confidence and morale is naturally boosted when you find a way to win.”