Sushaan Modi | Time for W. Hoops to prove itself
December 2, 2011, 12:55 am · Updated December 2, 2011, 12:56 am·
Ellen Frierson | DP
Ranked teams don’t normally schedule Penn women’s basketball. But this year’s team is different and needs to be challenged.
If the Quakers are to be successful this year, tonight’s matchup against No. 3 Notre Dame will be their most important game of the season.
The Red and Blue haven’t faced a player who can create her own shot as well as ND senior Natalie Novosel. They have never seen as quick, strong and agile a player as preseason All-American Skylar Diggins. They have never faced a rebounder as strong as Devereaux Peters.
But when Penn takes on the Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., the Quakers can prove to the rest of the Ivy League and Big 5 that they are a team to be reckoned with.
“I hope it’s a game where we can look the opponent squarely in the eye and not back down,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It presents a lot of challenges but we can’t be afraid. I’m anxious. It’s great trip for our program.”
Coming off a win against No. 7 Duke, the Fighting Irish are easily the most talented team that Penn has faced under coach Mike McLaughlin.
A 2011 Final Four team, Notre Dame has only lost once this year — to No. 1 Baylor. In fact, the Irish have beaten all four unranked opponents they have faced by an average of 40.5 points.
But for the Quakers, this game represents an important measuring stick and could not have come at a more perfect time in the season. At 4-1, the Red and Blue are off to their best start in program history, but their play has been anything but solid.
Penn has struggled at points during games, most notably in the second half against Rider and La Salle, but has shown a growing maturity by expertly closing out games. Against Notre Dame, however, the Quakers won’t be able to afford mistakes or mental lapses.
“[They are] a special team that was a play away from a national championship,” McLaughlin said.
With four wins already, Penn is surging with confidence. McLaughlin has been able to balance the youth of three freshmen earning major minutes and experience of forwards Jess Knapp and Jourdan Banks.
The team can only benefit from playing against one of the country’s best teams, but that means showing up for a full 40 minutes.
“They have one of the best back courts in the country,” McLaughlin said. “[We worked on] handling traps and trying to be secure with the ball, little things like that to handle pressure.”
A win, to be frank, would be a long shot. A loss by anything less than 20 points would be a resounding moral victory. But the greatest success the women’s basketball team can take away is a strong, mistake-free performance.
SUSHAAN MODI is a sophomore international studies and business major from Demarist, N.J. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com