They finally dropped a game, but they’re still standing.
Penn women’s basketball split its second Ivy League road trip doubleheader with a win at Brown followed by its first conference loss at the hands of Yale.
Despite the 61-48 defeat, the Quakers (15-7, 8-1 Ivy) still remain in sole possession of first place in the league. But that doesn’t mean they played first-place basketball this weekend.
“This had nothing to do with the standings: this team is better than we were tonight,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We have to be better this week to get ready for Friday and Saturday.”
It started in Providence on Friday night, when Penn trailed for almost all of the first three quarters, only to take the lead for the first time at the end of the third. Even then, the Quakers still could not put away Brown (14-9, 5-5), who played with a higher level of energy all night.
Penn managed to claw its way to a 71-68 victory to keep its perfect Ivy record alive, but the win did not come without blemishes. The players had the talent to get past the Bears, but they did not really outfight them.
“I really don’t know [what happened],” junior Michelle Nwokedi said of the first half on Friday. “We came out too loose.”
The same theme continued in New Haven the following evening, when Yale (12-11, 3-7) came out more energetically and more quickly than the visitors. The hosts could not drive a wide lead open in the first half — largely due to the efficient shooting of the Quakers — but the atmosphere certainly felt like they went into halftime with the advantage.
Yale’s momentum only continued out of the break as they cracked open a ten-point lead towards the end of the third quarter. This time, there would be no comeback.
“I thought they put us on our heels right out of the gate. We responded well in the first half, but when they put us on our heels in the second half, we were just really defensive about what we were doing,” McLaughlin said. “Both on the offensive and the defensive end, they had the advantage.”
The Bulldogs fought tooth and nail, throwing hands around and screaming on defense. They limited the Quakers to their lowest point total since December — a game in which they scored 47, but still won.
On offense, meanwhile, Yale did not have the most efficient game, but managed to force the game to take place within feet of the net, scoring 34 points in the paint. With senior Sydney Stipanovich’s recent struggles as a result of a nagging injury, Penn simply did not have the answers to combat the Bulldogs’ harrying paint presence.
“I don’t think we played particularly well in that area,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t pass particularly well, we got a little crowded, and our ball movement wasn’t clean. It got jammed a little bit.”
In the end, Penn was reduced to fouling Yale’s players in an attempt to gain some sort of momentum, but to no avail. The Quakers were dealt their first loss in eight games to bring their spot on top of the Ivy League down to a one game advantage over Princeton.
With just four more games until Penn’s rematch with the Tigers, that regular season-ending match is now all the more important for the postseason Ivy League Tournament’s seeding.
But until then, the Quakers must first make it through Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard.
Despite the drab ending to the weekend, there was one bright spot — senior center Sydney Stipanovich broke the Ivy League record for career blocks with the 303rd of her time at Penn. While McLaughlin was quick to point out that the distinction would not mean a lot to her directly after Saturday’s loss, he did take the time to praise her importance to the program and to the league.
For now, though, the reigning Ivy League champions must work to avoid another loss next weekend at Cornell or at Columbia.
“The mark of a champion is how they respond,” McLaughlin pointed out.
On Friday, Cornell will see for itself whether or not the reigning champions can.
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