It’s crunch time.
This weekend will be a telling one for Penn women’s basketball, as the team gets ready for its second straight pair of road games. This time, it's against the Ivy League’s joint-third place teams Harvard and Dartmouth.
After blowing away struggling Columbia and Cornell this past weekend, the Quakers (17-6, 8-2 Ivy) proved they were able to bounce back after a bad loss to Princeton last Tuesday. This weekend, they will be eager to continue their good form.
However, the competition will be much tougher, and the stakes even higher.
“Coming off of those wins was huge for us, but we know it’s gonna be a really tough weekend for us, probably one of the toughest we’ve had,” senior forward Michelle Nwokedi said. “So just getting mentally prepared, being the best we can, and just trying to execute will be key.”
One of the biggest components of the Quakers’ success this season is their consistent offensive output. Penn has scored 65 points or more in 15 of its 23 games so far this season, already a higher total than the three previous seasons with at least four games still to play.
Penn has also shown that it can push the score high, scoring more than 80 points in four of its games. In the team’s last two seasons, they only achieved this feat a total of three times.
“Our returning kids got a little bit better over the summer, and we’re playing at a faster pace,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We’ve made open shots, and I think the addition of [freshman center] Eleah [Parker] in the middle is causing a lot of teams to crowd her, and it’s given our guards some good space.”
Unlike many other teams, the Red and Blue are not led by one star player. Instead, the scoring is fairly well split among the team’s starters.
Parker and Nwokedi lead the team with 11.9 points per game each, but all five starters average at least 7.7 points. With only a few points per game separating the starters, the Quakers have benefitted from one of the most even squads in the Ivy League.
“With this year, you never know who’s gonna be on,” Nwokedi said. “So many people have stepped up in different games, and in previous years it’s been one or two people leading the team, but we’re getting a lot of key contributions this year and it’s been helping us down the stretch.”
Last week on defense, the Quakers were efficient at shutting down the top scores for both Columbia and Cornell, but this week will be tougher as Dartmouth (14-9, 6-4) and Harvard (14-9, 6-4) both have more balanced rosters.
The Big Green have a trio of players averaging over 10 points a game and the Crimson’s starting five is the most productive in the Ivy League, so strong defense throughout the weekend will be essential for the Red and Blue to return to Philadelphia with two more wins.
However, Penn is the only one of these three teams to have seven players score over 100 points at this point in the season, a statistic that proves the Quakers’ depth and explosive bench.
Although the team only ranks fourth in the Ivy League in terms of points per game at 67.6, this year’s number is a dramatic increase from the last two seasons (61.3 and 62.5). Additionally, Penn currently averages more than league-leading Princeton, who fall just below at 67.4 points a game.
The Quakers had some of their lowest offensive efforts of the season against Princeton, where they scored only 95 combined points from the two games. If these contests are removed, Penn’s point average per game would rise to 69.5, good enough for second best in the Ancient Eight.
With the increased firepower of their offense, the Quakers are harder to beat this year than ever. As they prepare to take on Dartmouth and Harvard and attempt to clinch a spot in the upcoming Ivy League tournament, keeping up their recent scoring frenzy will be crucial.
This weekend more than ever, it's time for Penn to show what it's made of.
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