It’s been quite a nonconference ride for Penn women’s basketball. And this weekend, the Quakers will make one final stop on that ride before Ivy League play continues.
The nonconference slate featured a few miraculous finishes — from a buzzer beater against Miami on New Year’s Day to Wednesday night’s thriller against Temple. There were also some pushes from Penn that fell just short, including back-to-back heartbreaking losses against Villanova and St. Joesph’s earlier this month.
But that part of the season will come to an end this weekend when the Red and Blue (9-5) host the New Jersey Institute of Technology in their final nonconference game of 2013-14.
“I think this is the most difficult [nonconference schedule] we’ve had in terms of the level of competition and we’ve responded very well,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “That can only help going forward as we get into the league and get comfortable with the back-to-backs”
Coming off Wednesday night’s win against Big 5 rival Temple, the team’s first over the Owls in nine years, Penn will need to work hard to maintain its focus and avoid falling into a potential trap game.
Though the Highlanders (5-17) haven’t pulled off any particularly jarring upsets and have struggled to piece together winning streaks this season, NJIT was able to beat Brown on Jan. 11 — and even hung in with Harvard for a half.
Saturday’s matchup sees the Quakers return to the Palestra for the first time since their blowout loss to Princeton on Jan. 11. The game will be the first in a Penn basketball doubleheader against NJIT, with the men’s teams doing battle in the nightcap.
“I like the doubleheaders with the guys,” McLaughlin said. “It does give the girls the opportunity to play in a more lively atmosphere.
“Ultimately, it just comes down to our 40 minutes anyway, and we’ll be ready.”
After missing the Quakers last game due to injury, junior forward Katy Allen appears poised to return to the rotation. Meanwhile, sophomore guard Keiera Ray is still listed as day-to-day and is unlikely to see much, if any, action against the Highlanders.
“It’s great that people are able to step up [with those players injured],” junior forward Kara Bonenberger said. “Melanie [Lockett] and Rayne [Connell] did amazing [against Temple].
“It’s good to know that when players get hurt, we have people to step up.”
When it comes to stopping NJIT, Penn will have to focus on graduate student Shakia Robinson, who is using her fourth year of eligibility to play for the Highlanders this year. Robinson was formerly coached by NJIT head coach Steve Lanpher when he was an associate head coach at Massachusetts.
Robinson will have to contend with Bonenberger and freshman center Sydney Stipanovich in the paint, both of whom tallied double-doubles against Temple.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Quakers, senior captain Alyssa Baron will look to stay hot after scoring a game-high 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting during her last time out.
If all goes as planned, these Quakers might end up extending the best nonconference start in Penn history.
“We just need to keep up that momentum, get our second win after three straight losses,” Bonenberger said. “It’s our last nonconference game so we’re just trying to make history, getting that 10th nonconference win.”