Penn pulls out first Big 5 win since '04
Quakers narrow win against La Salle gives Quakers a fresh taste of city success
January 20, 2011, 5:28 am · Updated January 20, 2011, 12:00 am·
It’s been quite some time since Penn women’s basketball defeated a Big 5 opponent.
Six years to be exact.
Wednesday night at the Palestra, the Quakers finally tasted sweet city victory as they edged La Salle, 45-40.
The win improved Penn to 6-8 on the season and was the 400th victory in program history.
Though the win is a historic one for Penn, the Red and Blue were by no means playing their best basketball.
Penn bested the Explorers despite turning the ball over 25 times and missing 50 shots, 12 of them from distance.
The Quakers were also in foul trouble throughout the second half. With just under five minutes remaining, freshman guard Alyssa Baron, sophomore guard Brianna Bradford and junior forward Jess Knapp were on the floor with four fouls apiece.
Those three combined for 41 of Penn’s 45 total points.
For all the Quakers’ offensive woes, the Explorers had even more as they struggled to score against the number-one defense in the Ivy League.
Clearly flustered at times, the Explorers shot a paltry 19 percent from the floor and 21.1 percent from three-point range.
While Penn led most of the way, La Salle battled back in the final minutes of the second half. Explorers senior guard Ashley Gale — who led her team with 13 points — hit two trifectas to cut the lead to two.
With 1:49 to go in the game, La Salle pulled even. But it was never able to take the lead.
In the final minute, with just 43 seconds left and the Penn lead at two, Baron drove to the basket and had her jersey pulled from behind.
“I was just praying the ref called a foul,” Baron said. “They called an intentional foul and Coach said, ‘Who’s going to make it?’ And I stepped up and I knocked both of them down.”
That play proved to be a pivotal one. The intentional foul meant that the Quakers got the ball back after Baron’s made free throws. They scored two more points, pushing the lead to six.
But the game wasn’t in the bag yet.
After La Salle sliced the lead in half with three-points from the charity stripe, Penn nearly gave away a costly turnover on a five-second violation, but was saved by a savvy timeout called by coach Mike McLaughlin.
“We couldn’t get the ball in, and as a coach and an ex-point guard too, I got a clock in my head,” he said.
For a program that has been through some challenging stretches in the last few years, the win carried meaning that will extend beyond Wednesday night.
For senior Caroline Nicholson, who grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, the victory was a culmination.
“We really wanted this one,” she said. “We were talking about it months from the game. We’re excited to finally start setting this program back to the peak that it was before.”
Baron, who finished with 17 points, offered her perspective as a freshman.
“We knew what it meant going in, and we definitely knew this was a winnable game,” she said. “We put everything on the line and we won.”
McLaughlin could not overstate the game’s significance for Penn women’s basketball.
“It’s about this team, but it’s more about this program. This is much bigger than any one of us," he said. "To win 400 games and just be a part of that number, I think it’s special.".