After nearly a month of play in the friendly confines of the Palestra, Penn women’s basketball had a challenge in front of them this weekend: venture out and win Ivy games on the road.
Consider that challenge complete.
In their first Ivy road doubleheader of the season, the Quakers did not disappoint, beating Columbia on Friday 64-54 before traveling to Ithaca to take down Cornell 61-55 on Saturday. Penn (14-6, 7-0 Ivy) maintained their perfect Ivy record and cemented their position atop the Ancient Eight.
Princess Aghayere stole the show for the Red and Blue Friday night against the Lions (12-8, 2-5), leading the team with a career high 21 points on 81% shooting. On a night where senior center Sydney Stipanovich was limited due to injury and junior forward Michelle Nwokedi was in foul trouble, the sophomore forward picked up the slack, as she was a dominant force down low all night.
“To get that type of contribution, it was awesome,” coach Mike McLaughlin said after the game on Friday. “She did phenomenal.”
The Red and Blue started off slow and stagnated a bit in the first quarter, but an explosion of 21 points in the second quarter allowed them to open up a 33-15 lead on Columbia at the half. The second half was much closer, with the Lions mounting several comeback attempts. But the Quakers held their ground, and never let their opponents trim the lead below double digits.
The game against Cornell (12-9, 3-5) was much more tense. Penn trailed for the majority of the first half, but fought their way to a 34-30 lead at the end of the second quarter, courtesy of the efforts of Aghayere and freshman guard Phoebe Sterba.
The last 20 minutes were a lot of the same back and forth action, with the Quakers never relinquishing their lead but also never able to truly pull away. The Big Red made it close at the end, cutting Penn’s lead all the way to 4 in the final minute, but a key steal by Kasey Chambers stymied Cornell’s comeback attempt.
“It’s not really unexpected with Cornell,” junior guard Anna Ross said of the late game comeback. “They’re a great, gritty team, very scrappy guards, we usually have a tough game with them. So just staying calm, everyone coming together was the main focus there.”
The pair of games served as a testament to Penn’s domination down low on both sides of the ball. The Red and Blue put up 68 combined points in the paint in the two games, while giving up only 38 and recording 12 blocks. The Red and Blue also had a big rebounding advantage, finishing the weekend with 79 boards to their opponent’s 53.
Much of that has to do with the presence of the Quakers’ big two Nwokedi and Stipanovich, but contributions from the bench, including Aghayere’s persistance on offense and Sterba’s efforts on defense, have bolstered what is already one of the Quakers’ strongest aspects.
“Again, Princess scored the ball tonight, she gave us that dimension,” McLaughlin said after Saturday’s victory. “Sydney gutted it out this weekend, I’m really proud of her. And the post play was really good.”
At the halfway point of their Ivy season, the Quakers couldn’t ask for much more. A perfect conference record with strong play up and down the lineup has Penn sitting pretty and already setting their sights and the end goal: a victory in the Ivy tournament.
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