Last weekend might have been “Championship Weekend” for the Ivy League, but Penn women’s basketball will make their case to extended it another week.
With the Ivy League Tournament looming in just a week, the Quakers are set to take their final Ivy road trip of the season. Penn (17-7, 10-1 Ivy) will travel to Dartmouth to take on the Big Green (7-18, 2-10) on Friday, then to Cambridge, Mass. to take on Harvard (20-5, 8-4) the next day.
After clinching a spot in the tournament last weekend, the Red and Blue have set their focus on capturing the regular season Ivy title and top seed. Penn currently holds a two-game lead over Princeton with three left to play. They can secure a share of the title as early as Friday with a win, and can take it with pair of wins or a win and a loss from the Tigers.
These games at the end of the regular season used to be some of the most important of the season, with the final Penn-Princeton game oftentimes deciding the conference championship. Now, with three of the four teams already having locked in their position for the tournament, they’re just precursors to the main event.
In their opponents this weekend, Penn will find two very different teams. Dartmouth is dead-last in the standings and are the only Ivy team with a negative plus/minus ratio, whereas Harvard is in the upper echelon with both Penn and Princeton.
Nevertheless, the Quakers readily dispatched both teams the first time they played back in the beginning of February, topping Harvard by 20 and Dartmouth by 30.
One of the biggest trends for the Quakers in recent weeks has been the dominant performance of junior forward Michelle Nwokedi. The Missouri City, Texas, native has been on an absolute tear in the past two weekends, recording four straight double-doubles.
“It’s crunch time,” Nwokedi said. “Last year it would have been different, considering the fact that we didn’t have the tournament last year, but this year it’s each game at a time, and each game is as important as the next.”
Nwokedi’s stat line in those four games is astounding: she is averaging 18.3 points on 44% shooting along with 11 rebounds. She has also led the Quakers in scoring in each of those four games, and her hot streak could not be coming at a better point in the year.
This weekend represents the start of a potentially grueling stretch for the Red and Blue. If they win their first game in the Ivy Tournament next Saturday, Penn will have to play five games in the span of nine days. This also includes their longest road trip of the season.
“Coach said at the beginning of practice that he’s helping us physically, he’s doing the best he can. So mentally, we all just need to do what we can outside of practice,” Nwokedi said.
On top of that, with Harvard being the presumptive No. 3 and Princeton coming into town for the regular season finale on Tuesday, the Quakers have a chance to see the same team twice in less than a week.
Despite this, the team is not fazed by these challenges, and in fact has already adjusted to the tough schedule.
“We were off Sunday, we were very light on Monday, we did individual workouts on Tuesday, and today we shortened what we did,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. What we did was very impactful, very short. At this point in the year we just to be sharp, so I’m not going to keep them out here any longer than I have to.”
With one final weekend to gear up for the tournament, Penn has a chance to repeat as regular season Ivy champs. But this year, that won’t be enough to close the book on the Quakers’ Ancient Eight journey.
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