Playing Temple is nothing new for the Penn women’s basketball team. After all, the Quakers and Owls face off annually as part of the Big 5 tournament. However, the team across the court at the Palestra on Wednesday may not seem as familiar this year.
As the second most inexperienced team in Division I, bearing six freshmen on a roster of 11, Temple has found success to be elusive this season.
After making the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, the Owls (7-10) regressed last season and are off to a mixed start this year, having dropped two consecutive Atlantic 10 games for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
“They’re a different team than they’ve been in the past,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said.
“Especially last year, they were a senior laden team with three guards that played a ton of minutes for them. They’re a little bit different [now]. Where they’re strong is inside — the two big kids inside are very good, they’re experienced, so their experience is in a key area.”
The Owls have been struggling with plenty of growing pains.
“Our goals have to change and as we came into the season our expectation was to still do the same things we’ve done in the past and we haven’t been able to do that,” Temple coach Tonya Cardoza said. “We haven’t reached the same level of success up to this point.”
This will mark the Quakers’ (7-7, 0-1 Ivy) final non-conference game of the season, and they most certainly will be sad to see that part of their season end. A win against the Owls would give Penn its second-best nonconference record in school history.
However, the Red and Blue have struggled slightly of late on offense, wasting a fantastic defensive effort in a 48-44 loss to Villanova last Wednesday.
“Our huge focus is always on our defensive end and we think that’s what wins our games,” sophomore Kathleen Roche said.
After failing to crack 50 points in their last two games, the Quakers will need to pick up their offensive pace if they want to hang with an Owls squad that scores 56.1 points per game.
“Temple’s a more athletic team,” Roche said. “So it’s going to be a challenge for us on defense to make sure that we don’t let them out jump us, beat us right off the dribble.”
A win against Temple would give Penn its second Big 5 win, a feat that has only occurred once in school history. The Red and Blue defeated La Salle on Nov. 30 before falling to the Wildcats.
“Everyone has this sense of urgency when we play Big 5 teams,” Roche said. “We know it’s a huge part of tradition and that these teams are coming from big programs. They’re not just Big East, they’re bigger conferences, so we know it’s going to be a challenge.”
And the Quakers have plenty of challenges coming up. For starters, Cornell and Columbia visit next week in the first Ivy weekend of the year.
“We definitely want the win in order to get into Ivy season with a little momentum, really feeling good about ourselves,” Roche said. “But I think the main thing is we really need to make sure that we play together.
“[McLaughlin] has been talking about being on an island by ourselves, if one of us is in a funk we need to make sure we really come together and stick together throughout the game.”
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