This is the most important weekend of the season for Penn women’s basketball.
Then again, that’s been the mentality that’s gotten Penn up to this point in the season.
“We started talking Ivy League play in the beginning of the year and how these games are and understanding that what’s in front of us is the most important,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We’ve set up this tone right now, they know, that this is the most important game, the one in front of us.”
Coming off of last weekend’s dominant wins over Dartmouth and Harvard, Penn (12-5, 2-1 Ivy) is looking to continue its hot streak this weekend as it travels to face Cornell (11-7, 3-1) and Columbia (4-14, 1-3).
The challenges will begin early for Penn as Cornell has proven itself one of the stronger contenders within the Ivy League.
Cornell swept through Yale and Brown last weekend behind a dominating performance from Ivy League co-Player/Rookie of the Week Nia Marshall, who averaged 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 12-for-17 shooting during those two games.
Then again, Marshall is just the start of the potential matchup problems for the Quakers against the Big Red. The Red and Blue will also have to contend with senior guard Allyson DiMagno and forward Shelby Lyman, a pair of experienced leaders who possess elite scoring capability.
“They have some good senior guards and a nucleus of young players that have made them better,” McLaughlin said. “Their post game has been effective with Marshall, and they probably have the best all-around offensive scorer in the league in DiMagno.”
In addition, the Quakers will have to deal with a hostile environment at the Newman Arena.
“It’s a difficult place to play,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve had some success there, especially last year, but struggled the previous few years. They’re a well-coached team and definitely in the hunt right now.”
As with all Ivy weekends, Penn will have to do an excellent job turning things around from Cornell to Columbia.
Though the game against Columbia should be a bit less of a challenge, the Quakers need to focus to avoid losing in a game where they are the clear favorite against a seemingly overmatched opponent.
Columbia poses different challenges with its much more balanced scoring offense. Four players for the Lions are averaging over nine points per game, albeit none over 10.4.
“They’re a very hungry team with a new coaching regime, so they’re playing with a lot of energy,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll certainly be prepared and ready for that one when the time comes.”
As always it will be interesting to see how both teams match up with the size of Penn’s frontcourt.
Cornell’s tallest starter this season has been Marshall, who at 6-foot stands a full three inches shorter than Penn’s freshman center Sydney Stipanovich.
Meanwhile, Columbia hasn’t had a player taller than 6-foot-1 start this season.
In the end, as always, it comes down to a “one-week-at-a-time” mentality for Penn and how the team responds to the adversity of a tough Ivy road trip.
“What we’ve done the last weekend is over, and this is the most important weekend in front of us,” McLaughlin said. “This is the way we’ve done it all year – this isn’t coach’s speak – this is just the way we’ve done it.”