Penn women's basketball hopes to carry momentum into Ivy play
Quakers will need to rely on improved defense against high-scoring Tigers
January 10, 2013, 11:03 pm·
Jing Ran | DP
By Nov. 18, the Penn women’s basketball team was off to a disastrous start.
Not only had the team lost all three of its games, but it was dealt even worse news: its starting point guard, Meghan McCullough, was out for the year with a knee injury.
But, after learning of the injury, the Quakers (7-5) have reeled off victories in seven of their last nine games heading into Saturday’s game against rival Princeton.
With the Red and Blue in need of someone to step into the point guard role, coach Mike McLaughlin turned to freshman Keiera Ray, despite her having no assists in Penn’s first three games.
To ensure a smooth transition, McLaughlin made the effort to rework the team’s offense to help Ray adjust to her starting role.
“Meghan was more of a set-up point guard while Keiera is more of a scoring point guard,” the coach said. “We made some sets for Keiera and tried to play within her strengths.”
As a result, Ray has progressed at the point position as the season has gone on. While her scoring average has gone down, her passing has improved. Since McCullough went down, Ray leads all freshmen in the Ivy League with 2.1 assists per game.
“The thing about Keiera is that she is very competitive,” McLaughlin said. “She wants to play and she wants to be good and that’s a great start. She isn’t afraid of the environment.”
Meanwhile, after struggling defensively early in the season, the Quakers as a whole have responded by allowing just 56 points per game in their last nine contests.
“[Defense] has always been our focus,” senior guard Brianna Bradford said. “Coach will tell us you can score a million points, but if you give up a million points, it gets you nowhere. It will stay a huge focus for us, especially heading into Ivy League play.”
Beyond the defense, a variety of players have stepped up offensively for the Red and Blue. In the nine games since McCullough’s torn ACL, six different players have led the team in scoring.
The Quakers now face what might be their toughest test so far this season as they visit the Tigers at Jadwin Gym. Princeton (9-5) has already posted impressive victories over Drexel and Rutgers, also winning each of its home games.
“It is going to be a great challenge,” McLaughlin said. “You are playing against a team that defends the way they do, rebounds the way they do and can score the basketball, and they don’t have many weaknesses in any of those areas.”
While the Tigers come into the game with the Ancient Eight’s highest scoring offense, Penn will hope to counter them with their improved, Ivy-best scoring defense.
And in order to contain Princeton and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed, the Quakers will be focusing on fundamentals.
“I think that rebounding is going to be key for us this game,” Bradford said. “Princeton, on defense, is great and they are also just long in general.
“I think that we need to one, keep our composure with our offense, and two, just really keep going after the ball.”