At this point in Penn women’s basketball season, no game or Ivy weekend doubleheader comes easy.
And that’s perfectly fine for the Quakers.
Coming off of a sweep in its first Ivy doubleheader of the season, Penn replicated that performance over the weekend with tough victories over Cornell and Columbia.
Heading into Friday, the Quakers (14-5, 4-1 Ivy) knew nothing would come easy in their road matchup with the Big Red (11-9, 3-3), a team that began the weekend in a similar position as Penn with only one Ivy blemish on their record.
“This weekend was a huge opportunity for us as a team,” senior Alyssa Baron said. “With five freshmen on the team, it’s a totally different game on the road and every Ivy game is a tough competition.
“Coming off of last weekend, we knew we needed to face Cornell with the right mindset and really get off to a good start.”
Despite the motivated mindset and momentum from back to back Ivy victories, the Red and Blue struggled to find a defensive rhythm in the early going against the Big Red. While Penn entered the weekend holding opponents to 34 percent shooting from the field — good enough for No. 3 in the nation — Cornell managed to make half of its shots in the first half.
“Cornell made some really tough shots, [I] give them a lot of credit for the first half,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I don’t think we defended poorly. They just made some really tough shots.
“Luckily, we challenged them better in the second half in terms of contesting shots, and that ultimately helped us get the win.”
Trailing at the half, the Quakers responded with a 17-0 run to start the second frame. Led by Baron’s season-high 28 points, Penn sealed a 67-57 victory with late clutch free throw shooting.
“[Baron] was really efficient. She was determined and focused on what she wanted to do,” McLaughlin said. “She got to the foul line and made big shots. Her leadership on the court made the game so much easier for everyone around her.”
Less than 24 hours later, Penn was back in action against another New York rival. Despite a relatively subpar record, Columbia (4-16, 1-5) pushed the Quakers to the brink and managed to keep the matchup close throughout the second half.
After a gritty win over one of the Ivy League’s premier teams on Friday, it would not have been surprising for Penn to come out flat against the Lions. But McLaughlin emphasized that the close 70-63 final score was more a result of Columbia’s strong offensive game than any lag from the Quakers.
“We started off pretty good, made seven of our first nine shots and were really rolling on the offensive end,” McLaughlin said. “They just kept it close, spread us wide and exploited the holes in our defense. Their style of play suits them, and that just kept us from pulling away.”
Baron again led the Quakers in scoring with 26 points against Columbia while junior forward Kara Bonenberger finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
With its New York road trip in Penn’s rearview mirror, the Red and Blue now turn their attention towards next weekend’s home doubleheader against Yale and Brown. Despite the momentum guiding Penn right now, the Quakers don’t plan to let their foot off the gas any time soon.
“Coming off of two Ivy weekends with sweeps, we’ve definitely received a confidence boost lately,” Baron said. “But we can’t get too cocky.”