Unfortunately for Penn women’s basketball, it’s not an Ivy League week – it’s Big 5.
Penn (9-5, 0-3 Big 5) looks to avoid going winless in the Big 5 as it gets set to take on Temple (15-3, 3-0) on Wednesday. This week represents the final two non-conference games of the year for the Quakers as they take a quick break from the Ivy League, where they are undefeated.
In some respects, the break couldn’t have come at a worse time. Entering the Villanova game last week, Penn had been on a six-game win streak, including three straight over Ivy foes Princeton, Yale and Brown.
Instead of allowing the Quakers to continue their momentum, though, the schedule dictated two tough matchups against nationally relevant opponents. First came , and now looms a date with current American Athletic Conference leaders Temple.
Temple enters the matchup on an 11-game win streak of its own, having scored over 70 points seven times during that stretch, including an 83-48 walloping of Villanova. The high-flying Owls play a quick game centered by their guards, a far cry from Penn’s slower emphasis on the interior.
“Their guard play is as good as you’re going to see ... this group is comparable to Duke’s,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “They can beat you in transition, in the half court, they can score from behind the arc, they can get to the basket ... We have our work cut out for us.”
At least one Temple guard has been getting national attention for her scoring abilities. Senior guard Feyonda Fitzgerald was chosen as ESPNW’s Player of the Week earlier this season and is averaging an astounding 18.4 points per game.
Coach McLaughlin understands the challenge his team is up against better than anybody, calling the Owls an “NCAA Tournament-caliber team.” But despite Temple’s gaudy stats and the injury to Penn starting guard Lauren Whitlatch, he believes his team is prepared to handle the Owls the traditional Penn way: through teamwork.
“We’re going to have to [work] collectively. We’re going to have to team-defend them, and make sure we keep them in front of us.” McLaughlin said. “Last game, [Villanova] forced us to guard one-on-one. That’s not going to end well for us, especially against a really skilled player.”
McLaughlin did note that the Quakers were able to impose their style of play in last season’s matchup. In that game, junior forward Michelle Nwokedi put up 22 points and what was then a career-high 16 rebounds .
“[We] just have to play the way that we can. Get everybody involved [again]. I couldn’t have done that without my teammates so obviously, everyone just needs to be on board,” Nwokedi said.
“We have to put our style out there. If we go running up and down the court with them, it’s not going to go our way,” McLaughlin added.
McLaughlin predicts that the Quakers will be able to impose their will early, but it remains to be seen whether they can contain Temple’s offense, and for how long. In games like these, endurance can be a problem, as Penn fans saw in last year’s tournament matchup with Washington.
None of that bothers Michelle Nwokedi though:
“I think we’ll be ok.”
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