nwokedi

Junior forward Michelle Nwokedi owned the glass on Saturday, finishing with nine points and eleven rebounds in a 68-38 win over Dartmouth.

Photo: Zach Sheldon / The Daily Pennsylvanian

When they’re playing like champions... is there anything you can do to stop them?

Penn women’s basketball tallied a pair of wins over Harvard and Dartmouth on Friday and Saturday to take firm control of first place in the Ivy League. The Quakers (12-6, 5-0 Ivy) made easy work of them both, beating a Harvard team (16-3, 4-2) ranked 20th in the RPI by 20 points and a decent Dartmouth side (6-13, 1-5) by 30.

Penn’s first visitors for the weekend, Harvard, came in flying on a 16-game win streak, including four in the league to take them to the top. The Quakers made them look tame, however, and controlled the match from start to finish. Their 63-43 win, paired with Harvard’s loss to Princeton the following night, puts Penn firmly in the driver’s seat in the Ivy League.

“We’re happy with it, but we’re not gonna let it get to our heads,” sophomore Ashley Russell said. “We can’t celebrate, and we can’t rest on our laurels going forward. We need to play like every team is the best team in the league.”

But the Quakers’ defense stands alone at the moment as the best in the league. In particular, if their defense stays as resolute as it was over the weekend — they allowed the Crimson just 12 points in the first half on Friday and the Big Green a meager 17 in the same time span a day later — there should be no difficulties holding on to the top of the conference.

In fact, Penn hasn’t allowed more than 60 points since the second game of the season. Between senior center Sydney Stipanovich and junior forward Michelle Nwokedi, the Red and Blue’s side of the paint has been on lockdown for months, and this weekend was no exception.

“We were just locked in,” coach Mike McLaughlin said on Friday night. “We defended hard from end to end. It was a tremendous effort ... I couldn’t be any more proud of the way we defended them for 40 minutes tonight.”

On the offensive end, all cylinders were firing in both wins. Junior guard Anna Ross scored a combined 28 points, while senior center Sydney Stipanovich and junior forward Michelle Nwokedi put up 23 each.

“These 80 minutes this weekend were the best basketball we’ve played as a group, on both ends of the floor,” McLaughlin said. “The offensive pieces are getting better every time, and I couldn’t be prouder of them this weekend.”

But the starters didn’t hog all the limelight. Bench showings from sophomore Princess Aghayere and Russell in particular helped keep things ticking over for the Red and Blue. Russell in particular had a good night against Dartmouth, scoring 11 points and registering six rebounds in 21 minutes on the floor.

“I feel really comfortable with [the bench],” McLaughlin said. “You saw the group play at the end. ... I like where we’re at. Our depth is growing, and they continue to work.”

If there is anything disappointing to take from the weekend, it’s that Stipanovich couldn’t come any closer to breaking the all-time Ivy League blocks record. With just six to go, the record is in sight, but the senior couldn’t add any despite starring in both games.

Otherwise, it was all smiles at the Palestra as Penn cruised to two wins, staying perfect at the top of the Ivy League in the process. With just nine games remaining in the regular season, there aren’t many chances for the Quakers to relinquish their two-game led on top of the conference.

So with the rest of the league fighting for the other three spots at the inaugural Ivy League tournament in March, it looks like the Quakers are in the driver’s seat for the regular season championship and that coveted top seed.

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