With the toughest stretch of its schedule completed and Ivy League play fast approaching, Saturday’s matchup at home against the NJIT presented itself as the eye of the storm for Penn women’s basketball.
After a thrilling midweek win over Temple, however, the Quakers did not allow themselves to be lulled by the calm before next weekend’s Ivy League storm.
Playing in its final nonconference matchup of the 2013-14 season, the Red and Blue took care of business on Saturday night, handily defeating the Highlanders, 84-48.
“It was a week of challenging competition, and we matched the intensity level [of earlier in the week] right away,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.
The win allowed the Quakers (10-5) to set the record for best nonconference mark in school history. No other team in Penn’s women’s basketball history reached double-digit wins before Ivy play.
The Highlanders (5-18) entered the game on a two-game losing streak after losses to Harvard and a struggling Dartmouth team.
Given the circumstances, the Quakers could have been complacent in their matchup against NJIT.
But that wasn’t the case.
In the second start of her career, freshman center Sydney Stipanovich set the tone for her team early.
Only eight minutes into the game, the rookie had already recorded a staggering six blocks and six rebounds. She ended the game with a Penn single-game record of eight blocks.
“I was just trying to stay straight up, and my main goal is just to affect shots,” Stipanovich said.
While Stipanovich was taking care of the team’s dirty work, her fellow frontcourt starter — junior Kara Bonenberger — was carrying the load on the offensive end with her aggressive play.
Propelled by 15 points on an efficient 3-for-3 shooting performance from Bonenberger, the Quakers led the Highlanders by 12 at the half.
With senior guard Alyssa Baron struggling with her shot, NJIT hung around for the first few minutes of the second half, but Penn’s offensive efficiency proved to be too much to overcome. With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Quakers had expanded their lead to 20, and they didn’t look back.
Bonenberger followed her career-best 20-point performance against the Owls with a team-high 18
“She has put together a string of great games, and it’s just her basketball maturity,” McLaughlin said.
Stipanovich and junior forward Katy Allen also chipped in 21 points combined as Penn’s frontcourt continues to be featured more and more prominently in the team’s offensive attack.
The Quakers welcomed Allen back into the rotation after she sat out against Temple, but they were hampered by the absence of sophomore guard Keiera Ray, who is day-to-day. Freshman guard Melanie Lockett and junior guard Renee Busch helped to make up for the loss with high energy play off the bench.
Although the Quakers are excited about the win and their overall nonconference success, they still have a lot left to accomplish this season.
They will dive into the heart of Ivy League play with back-to-back home matchups against Dartmouth and Harvard next Friday and Saturday.
“They’ll learn quickly how intense [Ivy] games are, but they are prepared,” McLaughlin said.
“One last stop on Penn women’s basketball’s nonconference ride”: http://www.thedp.com/r/8221d92a