History books in reach for Penn women's basketball
A win over Lafayette would mark first-ever 4-1 start for Quakers
November 30, 2011, 12:47 am · Updated November 30, 2011, 1:46 am·
After the biggest turnaround in team history last season, the Penn women’s basketball team is on the verge of making history yet again.
The Quakers (3-1) are off to their best start since 1982-83, and with a win tonight at Lafayette (2-4), they will have their first ever 4-1 start in program history.
With all of the positive energy built up after last year’s dramatic turnaround, the fast start has galvanized the team.
“We’re all really excited. It’s a testament to our hard work and focus,” senior captain Jess Knapp said. “I think the whole program and athletic community is excited for us.”
The Red and Blue will need to stay at top form if they intend to keep winning. Tonight’s game against the Leopards marks the beginning of a tough nonconference stretch which includes Drexel, San Diego State and last year’s national runner-up, No. 3 Notre Dame.
In last year’s contest in Easton, Pa., the Red and Blue took over in the final seven minutes to defeat Lafayette, 59-52, ending their previous three-game losing streak to the Leopards.
The Quakers will be looking to start their own streak against their in-state rivals, but the task won’t be easy. Lafayette features one of the tallest frontcourts in the nation with 6-foot-3 freshman forward Emily Homan and 6-foot-7 sophomore center Danielle Fiacco.
That height will present a new challenge for Penn. The Quakers worked in some situational practice on Tuesday, but coach Mike McLaughlin admitted it wasn’t anything like the real thing.
“It’s hard to simulate 6-foot-7,” he quipped.
While the Red and Blue may lack the size to directly compete with Fiacco and Co. — Penn’s tallest player listed is 6-3 sophomore Courtney Wilson — they remain confident that their defensive schemes and aggression will slow Fiacco and the Leopards.
“We held her to two points last year,” Knapp said. “While we don’t have any 6-foot-7 players, we’re bigger than last year and have great post defenders.”
McLaughlin added that his defense does not need to overhaul its plan to stop Fiacco and Homan.
“We just need to understand that she’s going to get her rebounds and her blocked shots. Our key is to make her catch the ball away from the basket and earn those points — no constant layups,” he said.
Penn will also rely heavily on their guard play to help out the interior defense. The Red and Blue plan on unleashing an aggressive on-ball defense against Lafayette’s backcourt.
“Ball pressure from the guards is going to be huge to prevent those easy entry passes inside,” Knapp said.
With their toughest opponent yet looming on Friday in South Bend, Ind., the Quakers’ focus could be at a premium tonight. McLaughlin and Knapp both recognized the great opportunity that awaits them but insisted that they have to stay single-minded in their approach.
“We know what awaits us this weekend,” McLaughlin said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, but we need to keep things simple and worry about what’s right in front of us.”
“We haven’t even gotten our itinerary for Thursday yet,” Knapp added.