It is often said that a good defense is the best offense, and Penn women’s basketball proved that on Saturday in the Quakers' home opener.
After losing to Binghamton in New York last Wednesday in a close contest, the Quakers returned to their winning ways with a 55-42 win over the Lafayette Leopards.
Coming into the game, the regional rivals had split their all-time series at 20 wins apiece. The Quakers were especially motivated after their 2016-2017 Ivy League championship banner was unveiled prior to tip-off.
The first half saw sluggish offensive play from both sides, but the Quakers (1-1) were eventually able to overpower the Leopards (0-3) through elite defense and a stellar all-around performance from reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Michelle Nwokedi (16 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks, two steals).
Both teams were missing many shots early on, with the exception of some Leopards' three-pointers. In fact, the only thing keeping the Leopards in the game was their efficient three-point shooting, as they shot 7-for-16 behind the arc.
Gradually, the Quakers turned on their defensive pressure. Nwokedi and freshman center Eleah Paker shined, as they collectively played smothering defense in the paint. Nwokedi would end the half with five blocks, as the Quakers went into the locker room with a 28-22 lead.
The second half was nearly the same story offensively; however, Nwokedi began to finish more of her layups inside and became more assertive as the game unfolded. The bench unit was particularly effective, as junior forward Princess Aghayere and sophomore guard Kendall Grasela each contributed over 16 minutes.
With a few minutes left to play, the Quakers hit some timely threes (courtesy of Grasela and senior guard Lauren Whitlatch) to seal the victory.
By the end of the game, the Leopards’ turnover rate (26 percent) exceeded field goal percentage (24.7 percent), and they were limited to just three points in the fourth quarter — both testaments to the Quakers’ superb defensive effort.
“We were nervous defending our home court, because the banner went up and there was a lot of emotion behind tonight’s game. Once those things settled down, we were able to play the Penn way and execute,” Nwokedi said.
Prowess in defense has long been at the heart of Penn women’s basketball, and the team will look to further hone it as the season goes on.
“Defense is critical to our identity. In this game, we were able to get key defensive stops which led to offense, and coach has always told us that offense will come when we play efficient defense and rebound the ball,” Nwokedi said.
Coach Mike McLaughlin believes that the squad will have to address boxing out and three-point defense to improve.
“We have to rebound better and put a body on people more effectively. Closing out on the three also needs work; the separation from where the shooters received the ball was a bit too large at times,” McLaughlin said.
Next up for the Quakers is the 15th annual Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas. The squad is slated to face off against Georgia Tech on Thanksgiving Day at 5:15 P.M.
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