The Ivy League championship is under the Quakers’ belts, but the bid for NCAA Tournament is still up for grabs.
After today, though, Penn women’s basketball took one step closer to another trip to the Big Dance after beating Brown in the first-ever Ivy League Tournament game, 71-60.
Saturday was the Michelle Nwokedi show, as the newly-crowned Ivy League Player of the Year dominated the floor. The junior forward scored 25 points, got seven of Penn’s eight blocks, and topped it off with 10 rebounds to make her performance a double-double — her 13th of the Ivy League season.
“Nwokedi’s not the player of the year for nothing,” Brown coach Lindsay Gottlieb conceded. “I could see her having an impact in any other league, not just our conference.”
But while Nwokedi took the game by the horns, the final score was far from ever certain. Despite going up 24-11 early in the second quarter, with coach Mike McLaughlin’s game plan working to a tee, the Bears responded in full force.
Four threes and a pair of layups from the visitors in just a couple of minutes made it a two-point game at 28-26, and a buzzer-beating three from the Bears’ best player on the day, Shayna Mehta, brought them within one at the half, at 33-32.
And Brown’s momentum only continued after the break. A quick six points put the No. 4 seed (16-12, 7-8 Ivy) up by five early on in the third quarter.
But then the Quakers (21-7, 14-1) went on their game-ending run.
It started with a three from Beth Brzozowski. Just seconds later, senior Kasey Chambers stole the ball and dished it to Anna Ross, who drained another from downtown.
“That definitely took a little confidence away from them, and we really needed that,” Ross said. “We kept it up from there... [Brzozowski’s] threes and the great defense by Kasey, it pushed us forward. That whole sequence, not that one shot, turned everything around.”
What was a 38-33 deficit became a 47-40 advantage in a matter of minutes. They trotted out to a 12-point lead to end the third quarter, and the Quakers’ advantage hovered around ten for the rest of the game.
In slightly unconventional fashion for Penn, the team’s scoring was concentrated among just three players. Nwokedi (25 points), Brzozowski (16) and Ross (12) were the only ones to record double-digit figures, and only seven players featured in Saturday’s rotation.
McLaughlin did acknowledge that the bench was shorter today, partially because of the specific demands that Brown required. Having typically utilized a rotation of eight of nine players all season, there could be a slight element of fatigue involved in tomorrow’s championship game.
But the coach also argued that his team has been handling one-day turnarounds all season, as is the nature of the Ivy League schedule.
The turnaround for Sunday will be quick. But with a 4pm tip-off time, the Quakers will have 27 hours of rest — several hours more than usual in the middle of the conference season.
Having played — and beaten — Princeton as recently as Tuesday, Penn will be prepared to see its bitter rival for the third time this season in Sunday's final.
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