Going into this weekend, many would have expected a split for Penn women’s basketball.
Just not the split that actually happened.
The Quakers began the weekend with a big victory on Friday at Harvard, 63-50, before last-place Dartmouth upset the Red and Blue on Saturday night, 53-50.
The victory over Harvard (17-7, 7-3 Ivy) moved Penn (17-6, 7-2) into a first-place tie with Princeton, but the Dartmouth loss leaves the Quakers a game behind the four-time defending champion Princeton (17-6, 8-1) with five games to go.
After taking down the Crimson in blowout fashion, 67-38, on Feb. 1, the Red and Blue knew they had a major test on their hands with the then-first place Harvard squad.
Both squads got off to a quick start, with senior captain Alyssa Baron helping Penn hang with Harvard from the opening tip with 16 first-half points.
“She set the tone,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “The confidence that she showed and [guard Meghan McCullough ] showed really helped our other players understand that we’re going to be able to win in this environment."
And after a fast-paced first half, Penn’s defense took over in the second half, just as it did in Penn’s first matchup with the Crimson. The Quakers held Harvard to just 26.5 percent shooting in the second half, including a paltry 1-for-12 performance from beyond the arc .
“We did a lot of the same things we did the first time,” McLaughlin said. “We really matched up well on the perimeter.
“We kind of willed ourselves to a really, really good road win for us.”
For the game, Baron finished with a game-high 21 points while junior forward Kara Bonenberger and freshman center Sydney Stipanovich each picked up a double-double, as Bonenberger had 11 points and 11 rebounds while Stipanovich had 13 points and 12 boards.
McCullough added a strong all-around effort in both games of the weekend, playing 79 of a possible 80 minutes between the two games.
But on Saturday, Penn was unable to be successful in the frontcourt. Dartmouth (4-20, 1-9) used a strong game plan to shut the Quakers out of the post and force them into jump shots.
And the plan worked to perfection. The Big Green took a 26-17 lead into halftime, holding Penn without a basket for the first seven minutes of the game.
“They loaded up the lane and they came out to say, ‘We’re gonna take away your post play,’” McLaughlin said. “They left our wings open and left our three open, and [we] didn’t shoot it particularly well that day.”
It took Penn a while to get going in the second half, as Dartmouth held a 12-point lead with 13 minutes to go.
But thanks to a large run, Penn took its first lead in the final minute of play off junior Katy Allen's put-back layup. But Dartmouth senior Nicola Zimmer responded with a basket of her own, and Baron’s final attempts didn’t fall.
“The reality is that we had our opportunities,” McLaughlin said. “But we needed a big stop with 27 seconds left and we’re up one and we didn’t get it.
“It was a really disappointing end to what could have been a really special weekend.”
After the weekend split, the Quakers still control their destiny for either first or second place in the Ivy League, the latter finish of which would give Penn an automatic bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament .
But if the Quakers are going to stay near the top of the Ancient Eight, they will need to bounce back after the heartbreaking Dartmouth loss.
“We’re not out of this, and our kids are resilient,” McLaughlin said. “They’ll bounce back.”