That's how you start a road trip.
In the first leg of its first Ivy road doubleheader of the season, Penn women's basketball downed Columbia 64-54. An all-around effort for the Quakers saw major contributions from several bench players.
The performance of the Quakers (13-6, 6-0 Ivy) was even more encouraging considering the limited impact of the squad's top scorers, senior Sydney Stipanovich and junior Michelle Nwokedi. Stipanovich, hampered by an ankle injury sustained against Dartmouth last weekend, scored only six points and wasn't her usual self, whereas Nwokedi found herself in early foul trouble, and played limited minutes.
Stepping up in their place was sophomore Princess Aghayere, who had the game of her career. The forward from Reston, Va. dominated inside on offense, scoring 21 points on 81 percent shooting. She also added six rebounds, five of which were on offense.
"To get that type of contribution, it was awesome," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "She did phenomenal."
The Quakers came out energized and ready to play in the first quarter, sprinting out to an early 6-0 lead. But Columbia (12-8, 2-5) responded with seven straight points of its own as Penn went cold from the field. Nothing fell for the Red and Blue for five minutes, and they looked sloppy on offense. But towards the end of the first and for most of the second quarter, Penn kicked it into gear on both sides of the ball.
It started with a seven minute run in which they held the Lions off the board, and it continued with a 21-point explosion from the offense in the second quarter led by the sophomore tandem of Aghayere and Ashley Russell. The Quakers were able to get inside and score from down low at will, and it allowed them to open up a commanding 33-15 lead at the half.
"I know that in the locker room, coach really reiterated that we have to come out and try to keep them down, especially on the rebounding end," Aghayere said. "Every quarter he wanted to just make sure that we were outrebounding them."
In the second half, the Quakers' defense bent, but never really broke. The Lions slowly crept back into the game, trimming Penn's lead to 10 in the fourth quarter. But Penn held its ground, and bolstered by several Columbia turnovers and fouls, was able to maintain its lead and close out the game.
"Once we get in the flow we've been very effective all year once we flow," McLaughlin said. "We just don't continue to stay in the flow, and I think that's on me a little bit to look at some combinations."
Even though their defense struggled in the second, Penn still had a strong night, proving why the Red and Blue are the top defensive unit in the Ancient Eight. The Quakers registered nine blocks and seven steals on the night, as Stipanovich moved to two blocks away from breaking the program record.
The first half of the trip was a success, but the Quakers have no time to rest. They'll be back in action tomorrow, looking to keep their perfect Ivy record in tact against Cornell.
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