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Penn nearly pulled off an upset against ACC powerhouse Virginia Monday night. Sophomore Kara Bonenberger had 14 points in the 68-65 loss.

Photo: Andrew Dierkes / The Daily Pennsylvanian

If the Penn women’s basketball team can compete with ACC powerhouse Virginia, it can compete with anyone it faces in Big 5 or Ivy play.

And though the Quakers lost a heartbreaker at home Monday night, 68-65, Penn (0-2) had a 12-point lead over the Cavaliers (2-0) at the half and went up by 15 to open the second frame. However, Virginia chipped away at the deficit throughout the half and hung on to win.

“They looked Virginia right in the eye, and I thought we were the better team tonight,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We’re disappointed … I’m disappointed for them.”

Despite the disappointment, the Quakers also see this as a confidence boost.

“We know we can compete with anyone on the road, and we’ll be tough to play against,” junior guard Alyssa Baron said. “We were just talking in the locker room — if we can compete against ACC schools; what’s the difference between playing Big 5, Princeton, Harvard?”

Indeed, the Red and Blue played well enough to compete with the best teams on their schedule, but Monday they couldn’t hang on for the victory. After shooting 53.8 percent in the first half, McLaughlin knew his team’s shooting would likely fall cold.

“I kind of thought at some point we wouldn’t shoot 54 percent,” he said.

And the coach was right. Penn made just 32.3 percent of its second-half tries as the tables turned and Virginia heated up.

On the heels of 18 second-half points from guard Kelsey Wolfe, the Cavs outscored Penn, 45-30, after the break.

“They were able to get in low, and we couldn’t stop them and started fouling,” Penn guard Kara Bonenberger said.

The lead changed five times in the final five minutes of the game.

Sophomore guard Kathleen Roche had an opportunity to tie up the game at the buzzer, but she got a bad look and couldn’t put in the shot.

“I think fatigue kicked in a little bit — they were able to go by us a little better,” Baron said. “We just have to push through for next time.”

Similar to the sentiment after Friday’s 60-51 loss to Norfolk State on the road, McLaughlin is still looking for players other than Baron and Bonenberger — who scored 21 and 14 points Monday respectively — to contribute.

“We’re still trying to find who that will be from day to day,” he said. He has high hopes for Roche, who had 10 points and five rebounds, and freshman Keiera Ray.

“She’s fearless,” McLaughlin said of his newcomer. “She’s not scared of this situation at all. She got to the rim really hard.”

Staff writer Nick Greiner contributed to the reporting of this story.

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