Penn women’s basketball is on a roll, and now it gets to bring it home to Philadelphia.
The Quakers (13-5, 4-1 Ivy) return to the Palestra following two dominant road wins over Brown and Yale, extending their win streak to seven games. This long and sustained success is a rebound following the team’s early-season loss to Princeton. Since then, Penn has secured a share of its second-ever Big 5 title, reeled off four straight conference wins, and even beaten a team by over 60 points.
“Coming back to our home court is a big thing," freshman forward Tori Crawford said. "It's about just protecting our house, and really trying to be good at home and win at home."
Now, the Quakers are set to host Dartmouth (12-7, 4-2) on Friday and Harvard (13-6, 5-1) on Saturday. Despite the team’s recent success, these matches should not be taken lightly – both teams come into this weekend’s matches off of weekend sweeps, and Harvard is currently atop the Ivy League standings with the best conference record, half a game ahead of Penn.
“On any given day, any team can win. Our league is so special in that way, in that teams are so versatile and so different,” Crawford said. “[We’re] not necessarily paying attention to standings, we're just going out and competing really hard … that's what builds that championship culture, just going out every single day and playing really, really hard every single time.”
Penn has been playing well, and so should be ready for the challenge, especially if freshman center Eleah Parker continues on her historic trajectory. Parker won her seventh Ivy League Rookie of the Week award last week, and will look to add to her laurels with strong play this weekend.
Senior forward Michelle Nwokedi, another star on the team, makes up the second half of Penn’s frontcourt, a part of its game which has been incredibly dominant this season. Both athletes regularly post double-doubles, and are frequently able to take control of a game with their rebounding and post prowess.
The emphasis for the team against Harvard will be defense, as the Crimson currently lead the Ivy League in scoring with an average of over 80 points per game. Harvard is also loaded with guards and typically scores over a third of its total points from beyond the three-point arc, which means defense will have to be stout on the perimeter, especially from senior guards Anna Ross and Lauren Whitlatch.
“We did recognize throughout the season we did struggle on guarding the outside, especially the three pointers and what not,” Whitlatch said. “We've had a lot of success lately, but I think it's just keeping on making sure that we have that hand up and we communicate on knowing personnel.”
The game plan for Dartmouth is similar; although the Big Green don’t score quite as prolifically as Harvard, they rely even more heavily on three-pointers, which means defending deep shots will be crucial. Dartmouth scores over 40 percent of its points from behind the arc, and leads the league in overall field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Penn will have to honor those shots and adapt to the extra space that they will create for Dartmouth’s offense.
The hope for the Quakers in both games is that a strong perimeter defense will force the opposing guards inside, where they’ll run into the powerful post defense of Nwokedi and Parker, who will do what they always do: block shots, pull down rebounds, and generate offense off of defense.
“Within the post, we’ve become so comfortable working with each other in practice, especially our starting posts Eleah and Michelle,” Crawford said. “I think that us going in, the post players knowing that it's gonna be a dominant game for us and really using that to our advantage against a more guard-centered team is just gonna [let us] come out on top at the end of the day.”
Both Harvard and Dartmouth are formidable opponents, but if the Red and Blue can continue the strong level of play that their talent – and recent success – proves is possible, they will be in good position to extend their winning streak and work towards an Ivy championship.
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