Coming to a Palestra near you... an upset opportunity for the ages.
On December 9, Penn women’s basketball is set to take on No. 3 Notre Dame, which may prove to be a difficult matchup for the Quakers.
Coming off of a tough Big 5 loss against La Salle (4-3) on November 29, the Quakers (2-3) are looking to rebound after a shaky start to the season. The Red and Blue gave the Explorers a hard-fought game, leading by double-digits early but ultimately falling short 66-59 in the final quarter.
After almost defeating No. 1 UConn on December 3, the Fighting Irish (7-1) will be hungry for a win against the Quakers. Notre Dame was points away from upsetting the Huskies (7-0), a feat that has happened once in the three calendar years. With a score of 80-71, the game proved Notre Dame’s efficiency on court, despite the loss.
Senior forward Michelle Nwokedi and the rest of the Quakers are not intimidated, however.
“We know that they’re number three in the country right now. We just need to focus on ourselves and not the Notre Dame jersey,” she conceded. “We just need to play the ‘Penn Way.'"
Leading the team in overall points, Nwokedi, also one of the team’s captains, noted how the team is looking to regain some of its confidence over the course of the next few days.
Against La Salle, Penn forced 24 turnovers, a season high for the Quakers. The Red and Blue have placed a heavy emphasis on defense in practice in order to play strongly against a hungry Notre Dame team.
“We’re just trying to tweak the little things, different things just to press offense and press defense, especially our zone," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "Really just defense, because back to previous championships that we have won, defense has really been the key to our Penn identity."
After an impressive season last year culminating in a 13-1 Ivy League record, the Quakers hope to return to conference play with that defensive prowess they exhibited on the court in years past, but they recognize that a new Penn identity is ready to be forged.
“What’s last year, is all last year. And it's great to celebrate it and great to remember it so we can get back to that point,” Nwokedi said. “But it's a new team and we have a new identity. We want to have a good start before we head into Ivies.”
However, it may prove difficult for the Quakers to gain confidence against the Fighting Irish.
The defending ACC champions, Notre Dame has shown its consistency on court over their first games of the season. Penn will need to be on the lookout for Arike Ogunbowale of the Fighting Irish, as she has led the team in points in four of the last eight games.
McLaughlin is confident that the Quakers can translate the changes they have made in practice into a win against Notre Dame, especially since the team will be playing on its home court.
“With Notre Dame you are going to be getting a top-three team in the country, who came a play or two from beating the No. 1 team in the country. I think we all understand that and recognize it," he said. "They’re coming into our facility, the Palestra. I’m going to embrace it. We’re going to have a battle.”
Let’s hope the Fighting Irish are ready for a battle.
The Quakers sure are.
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