Penn women’s basketball knows how to take care of business.
The Quakers started off a little slow, but outplayed Columbia for the final 35 minutes of the game en route to a largely comfortable 70-51 win. The night before, the Red and Blue took down Cornell by a score of 68-48 to sweep the New York Ivy teams. Against the Lions, Penn (8-5, 2-1 Ivy) was led once again by another dominant performance from freshman Eleah Parker who set a new career high with 22 points.
“I thought both of our post players, starting with Eleah on the offensive end and Michelle [Nwokedi] on the defensive end, I just commend them both,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought Eleah was special tonight.”
By any measure, the freshman forward had a career night. Her 14 total rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass, were a career high as well. Columbia (6-11, 0-2) just had no answer for Parker’s height and length. Often, a Columbia player would have better positioning for a rebound, but Parker would just reach over her and take the ball. When the Lions failed to double-team her, Parker knew exactly how to take advantage.
“[It's about] using my strength and my power over other players and just knowing what they can do against me defensively and what I have,” Parker said. “Just really listening to my coaches and my teammates, and especially when I hear them say ‘Go at them! Go at them!’, and that really gives me confidence.”
The dominance on the glass – the Quakers outrebounded the Lions 54 to 33 – led to just four second chance points for the visitors. Eliminating second chances also helped Penn shut down one of the Ivy League’s best in Camille Zimmerman. The Columbia forward scored 28 and 31 points against the Quakers in their two meetings last season, but this time around, she was held to just nine, with four of those coming in the fourth quarter with many Penn reserves on the floor.
“We just made sure we were aware of her,” McLaughlin said. “We crowded her a little bit, we communicated when she was running baseline, I think when she got the ball at the elbow I think we were pretty tight on her. I figured she was going to score, just because she’s a threat … she’s one of the better kids in our league.”
The game didn’t start off so rosy for the Quakers. The Red and Blue missed their first six shots; each one seemed to rim out and fall right into the hands of a Columbia rebounder. At the other end, the Lions took advantage to go up 7-0 just three minutes in. McLaughlin immediately called timeout, Penn settled down, and came out of it on an 18-0 run of their own.
Once the shots started falling for Parker and Co., the Quakers dominated. The three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week’s interior presence soon opened up the perimeter, and the Quakers started raining in threes. Junior Ashley Russell in particular made the most of those opportunities, with three triples, including one from well beyond the arc.
Across both games this weekend, the emphasis was on intensity. Against Princeton a week ago, the Quakers came out flat and never really got it going. They’ve now learned their lesson.
Against Cornell, Penn out-hustled the Big Red to loose balls and emphasized being active in passing lanes on defense. Aside from the first three minutes, the same was true of the Columbia game. All five players on the court had active hands, leading to unusual defensive statistics: point guard Anna Ross was credited with a block. In total, seven different players recorded either a block or a steal. On offense, the hustle manifested itself in the offensive rebounds the Quakers won so drastically. That extra effort is key for a team with March aspirations.
“It doesn’t matter really how we play, what’s standard is the intensity level has to be high on every play,” McLaughlin said. “You saw the girls on the floor, you saw that any loose ball they were on it. Then to match that up with pretty good play, we got pretty good results.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have trouble [maintaining that] the way we are right now. We play hard, and they’re really passionate about what they’re doing, so that carry over, for me, is really easy to do.”
In the end, Penn’s intensity and athleticism was just too much for both Cornell and Columbia to handle.
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