When Penn gave up a season-high 77 points to Drexel on Dec. 21, the Quakers knew they needed to come up with a better defensive effort. In their two games in the Iowa State Cyclone Challenge, they did exactly that.
The Quakers won both of their games in Ames, Iowa, taking down Air Force, 61-39, a day after beating Alabama State, 52-37.
Penn (6-4) smothered both of its opponents defensively, allowing allowing Alabama State (2-8) and Air Force (1-11) to shoot 25 and 29 percent from the field, respectively. The Quakers also forced at least 20 turnovers against each opponent.
“With the Drexel game, we know we’re not a team that can give up that many points,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We got back to practice on the 26th and really worked on our defensive rotations. It was definitely a step in the right direction.”
While the defense dominated, the offense also impressed during the two-game stretch. Junior guard Alyssa Baron outscored Air Force by herself for much of the first half before finishing with 16 points. But sophomore forward Katy Allen contributed a career-high 11 rebounds to go with seven points.
“We treated this like an Ivy League situation with the two games back-to-back,” coach McLaughlin said. “We went a little deeper than we normally do offensively. We played unselfish and spread the ball well. It was truly a good team trip.”
But each victory was unique for the Quakers. The Quakers took down Alabama State with a barrage of 10 three-pointers but defeated Air force with just three baskets from beyond the arc.
Despite the differences, the bench was a focal point in each game. The bench scored 20 points against the Lady Hornets on Saturday before adding in 22 points against the Falcons on Sunday.
“The starters gave us a really good beginning and the bench came and maintained the same level of intensity,” senior guard Brianna Bradford said. “Coach McLaughlin always tells us that when your name is called, be ready for the opportunity.”
After the strong performance in Iowa, The Quakers have now won six of its last seven games with just two contests before they enter Ivy League play. Bradford felt that the team is definitely ready for challenge.
“Especially after this tournament, we are really well-prepared [for Ivy League play],” Bradford said. “With Ivy weekends, we are going to have to play back-to-back and this was good practice to get our minds set for that.”
In contrast to the ease of the two wins, the Quakers had a tough trip getting to Iowa. Still, the team used the trip as an opportunity to bond together.
“Our flight got canceled out here so we got out here late at night instead of the morning,” coach McLaughlin said. “I felt it was a good team-building situation. We got to have dinner and go to a bowling alley as a group.”
The Quakers now return home and have two home games before the end of winter break, facing St. Joseph’s and Morgan State in the New Year.