How do you follow up a fourth quarter, come-from-behind victory against your biggest rivals on their home court in the conference play opener?
For Penn women’s basketball, the answer is hopefully with two more wins.
The Quakers (7-4, 1-0 Ivy), fresh off their 62-57 defeat of Princeton last Saturday, cannot afford to sit back and relax, as they begin to move into the heart of Ivy play this weekend. With two home games against Yale (9-4, 0-0) on Friday and Brown (9-4, 0-0) on Saturday, this weekend gives them a chance to further their title defense.
Riding a four-game win streak, the Red and Blue are playing some of their best basketball of the season – and at just the right time. They seem to have worked out several of the kinks from their early season struggles, and are firing on all cylinders up and down the lineup just in time for the bulk of Ivy play.
“We’re starting to click better,” junior forward Michelle Nwokedi said. “We’re working really hard in practice together. I think in games it’s just showing all of the hard work that we do in practice is paying off.”
At the heart of that success has been two key players down low — Nwokedi and senior center Sydney Stipanovich. The pair have been the focal points on offense, as they both are averaging double-digit points and rebounds, but also contribute significantly on defense, as Nwokedi and Stipanovich are second and third respectively in the Ivy League in blocks.
Nwokedi had struggled as of late, but came alive in the second half of the Princeton game, finishing the game with a team-high 13 points and earning co-Ivy Player of the Week honors. Her return to prominence in the box score bodes well for the next few weeks for Penn.
“I think the Princeton rivalry, everyone is always really hyped, going into the game I knew I had to play well to get my teammates open and do my best,” she said. “So I just went out there and played with all I had and ended up with great results.”
In their two opponents this weekend, Penn will find high-scoring squads both averaging over 60 points a game. Brown especially has a potent offense, averaging almost 74 points per game with four players averaging double-digit points. Despite this, the Red and Blue are not fazed, and with good reason. Penn has found success against both teams in recent years, as the program carries nine-game and six-game win streaks against Brown and Yale respectively.
“For Yale particularly since they’re first, they’re going to bring the pressure in the backcourt, they’re going to try to deny us a lot of wings, so we’re prepared for that,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We’ve seen it, they’re going to do that. We’ve got to show that we can score multiple ways, we’ve got to score inside-out, we’ve got to score outside-in, we’ve got to get our guards to the basket.”
Both Brown and Yale enter the weekend coming off wins, as the Bears dropped 90 points against Rhode Island College on Monday, while Yale finished its own California trip on New Year’s with a 64-60 win against UC Santa Barbara. Brown will face Princeton on Friday before taking the trip down to the Palestra.
The weekend also represents the fivavrst Ivy doubleheader of the season, the hallmark of Ivy play. Two games in 24 hours is always a grueling task, both mentally and physically, but McLaughlin is confident that his experienced team can handle it.
“We talked about it,” he said. “We talked about the recovery, the mindset, playing a game 24 hours later and being mentally strong both games. I think we’re experienced now, we just have to execute. We have some new players who haven’t been through it as much, but you have to grind it out, you really do.”
And if they put in the grind that they need to, the Quakers can add two more wins to their Ivy record.
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