Ivy League regular season championship? Check. Ivy League Tournament championship? Check that, too.
Penn women’s basketball marched out to a 57-48 victory over Princeton in the championship game of the first-ever Ivy League Tournament, earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament next weekend.
It will be the team’s third trip to the Big Dance in four years.
Ultimately, the qualities of Penn’s win over Princeton were the same qualities that have brought them such unprecedented success in recent seasons — strong defense, methodical offense and clinical finishing.
Everything started to go right for the tournament’s No. 1 seed once the second quarter started. A tight first ten minutes left the game in gridlock, with Penn only up 15-14.
But in the second period, the Quakers locked the game down. They allowed just four points — the lowest total the team has ever given up in a quarter. In the same time, they moved the ball patiently and deliberately on offense, putting up 14 in the quarter.
“We came in knowing that defense was gonna win us the game,” tournament-MVP Michelle Nwokedi said, emphasizing that the team needed to focus on getting one stop after another. It worked, and the team’s offense came along with it, she said.
The Quakers were clinical on offense, allowing them to take possessions slowly and control the pace of the game to their liking. Shooting 46 percent in the second and third quarters, the team’s average time of possession was well over 20 seconds. In many ways, it was vintage Penn women’s basketball.
“We were just really dialed in,” Ivy League Coach of the Year Mike McLaughlin said.
The team’s performance was typified by Nwokedi, the Ivy League Player of the Year, who was a thorn in the Tigers’ side on both ends of the court. On top of her 15 points and three assists offensively, she also mustered up three blocks and two steals to go with her 11 rebounds — securing her second straight double-double. For all this, she was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Another standout performer for Penn was junior Anna Ross. The guard led Penn in scoring with 17 points, but the stat sheet alone can’t speak to how clutch many of those were. With the Quakers’ long possessions, many shots came down to the buzzer, and Ross nailed several shots as the shot clock expired to keep Penn going.
“Anna’s one of the best shooters you can find,” McLaughlin said. “We just have to convince her of that. We just kind of have to change her mentality at times, the way this group works, and make her more of an attack guard… She’s the one that gave us some separation [over Princeton].”
But perhaps most surprising of all — in fact, maybe the only surprise on Sunday — was the performance of Kasey Chambers. Usually, Chambers doesn’t score much — just over five a game. But against Princeton, she took far more shots and made the most of them, scoring 13 — nine in the fourth quarter — and dishing out five assists. Additionally, her harrying defense produced a pair of steals and kept Princeton’s guards at bay all afternoon long.
“Kasey is a winner,” McLaughlin said. “She’s got heart, she’s got guts. She’s one of the better winners I’ve ever been a part of — there’s nothing that stands in her way. I think the team understands that she’s really special.”
Now automatically qualified for March Madness, the Quakers will see what seed they end up with and who they play on Monday night. They’ll then have a few days to rest up and prepare for another chance at their first-ever NCAA Tournament win under coach McLaughlin.
For now, though, they can enjoy the moment. Penn women’s basketball has won the first-ever Ivy League Tournament.
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