With just three games left in Ivy League play, the Quakers needed every win they can get to keep pace with Princeton.
And for Columbia, it was just the next victim of a ferocious Penn women’s basketball team overflowing with energy in its last home stand of the season.
Penn imposed its will on Columbia, claiming the lead on the first bucket of the game and never relinquishing it in a 65-50 win that clinched the second 20-win season in program history.
“We just came out, everyone touched the ball, we ran some really clean sets,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Took five shots, made five baskets on five clean open sets.”
And with that, Penn (20-6, 10-2 Ivy) climbed out to an impressive 13-0 lead, holding the Lions (6-21, 3-10 scoreless for the first 4:37 of the game.
“We knew we had to come out strong,” senior guard Meghan McCullough said. “Once you come out strong, you can carry it through the rest of the game. That was our goal and we’re happy about that.”
That’s exactly what Penn did; carry it through the rest of the game. Though Columbia scrambled back within four points of the Quakers midway through the first half, the Red and Blue quickly put away any hopes of a comeback with a 9-0 run to go ahead by double digits.
The key to that run and most of the team’s effective offense for the night was the performance of the front court.
“Whoever came in did a great job, they were dominant in there,” McCullough said. “That always makes it easier for the guards, you can toss the ball in to them and they did their work.”
Junior forward Kara Bonenberger and freshman center Sydney Stipanovich both turned in stellar performances. Stipanovich turned in her 10th double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Bonenberger scored a team-high 21 points.
The strong play in the post made up for the surprisingly poor shooting night from senior guard Alyssa Baron. Baron, the team’s leading scorer, went just 1-for-13, but found other ways to contribute to the team’s win.
“Alyssa still had a great game, even though the points don’t show up,” Bonenberger said. “It just shows that everyone can step up on this team. You can’t slack off for anyone on defense.”
For the seniors, this was their second to last game at the Palestra, with Saturday night’s contest against Cornell marking their home finale.
“It’s emotional, but right now we’re just worried about winning tomorrow night and moving on,” McCullough said. “It’s been a great four years and all four of us appreciate all the support and we’re just ready for a win tomorrow night to top it off.”
Tipoff against the Big Red tomorrow night is scheduled for 8:00 PM, as Penn looks to stay atop the Ancient Eight.