For the first time in program history, Penn women’s basketball is postseason-bound for the second consecutive year.
It’s just the next step in this program’s resurgence over the past few years, powered by this year’s crop of seniors.
“It’s very chilling now, for me personally, to try to get them to come here off a team that won two games,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.
“To have that feeling tonight now that they’re going to play for an Ivy League championship, I can’t put it into words. It’s all about what they did, to buy in, to create the culture they helped to create.”
On Senior Night, the Quakers shined the brightest, demonstrating exactly what this team has become as Penn used a dominant second half to take down Cornell, 50-43.
The game began with a ceremony honoring the four seniors for Penn (21-6, 11-2 Ivy). Guards Alyssa Baron and Meghan McCullough, forward Kristen Kody and center Courtney Wilson walked out to center court with their parents to the cheers of a decently sized Palestra crowd.
“We’ve had a great four years here,” McCullough said. “Getting a sweep on our last Ivy weekend here was a great feeling with tons of friends and family around.”
After honoring their seniors, the Quakers came out rather flat in the first half missing on a good number of outside shots. Their defense kept them in it, leading to a rather back and forth affair until Cornell (14-14, 6-8) established a lead late in the half.
“We all knew that for the seniors that this was the last time we were playing on this court,” Wilson said. “So we addressed that and said that we had to come out in the second half and play hard right from the start of the second half.”
And to say the team played hard in the second half might be an understatement. The Red and Blue came out rather slow to start the half, as Cornell maintained its lead through the first seven minutes.
But at the 12:41 mark, a layup by freshman guard Melanie Lockett tied the game at 33-33. Seconds later, it was followed by a fast break layup by junior guard Renee Busch as the Quakers began an 18-2 run that would ruin any hopes for Cornell to win this game.
For the Quakers, it was the defense during that stretch that proved most important. Penn held the Big Red to a mere 17.6 percent shooting in the second half, and a paltry 25.8 percent on the game.
“We’ve always taken pride in our defense this season and that always turns into offense,” McCullough said “And that showed this game.”
It was another disappointing game for Baron, who struggled shooting from the field for the second consecutive night, but once again got it done in other ways. Baron led the team in rebounds (8), assists (5) and steals (3), despite putting up just five points.
With the pair of wins this weekend, the Quakers set a number of important program records. This season is just the second 20-win season in program history and just the fourth 10-win Ivy season.
All of this, especially the chance to play for an Ivy League title on Tuesday against Princeton, seemed incredibly unlikely just four years ago when these seniors first stepped onto the Palestra floor.
“There’s no better place to be right now. Four years ago, that was our goal, to get a banner,” Wilson said.
“We’ll play our hardest on Tuesday and see what happens.”