Penn women's basketball missing its rock
With an injury to defensive star Jess Knapp, Penn needs a team effort
January 11, 2012, 1:01 am · Updated January 11, 2012, 10:57 am·
Jing Ran | DP
It’s hard to build a fort without a base.
When the Penn women’s basketball team (7-4, 0-1 Ivy) takes the court for Wednesday’s matchup against NJIT, they will do so without their defensive anchor.
“Jess [Knapp] was the base of our defense,” sophomore point guard Meghan McCullough said. “She kept everyone where they needed to be.”
Tight defense has become the staple for the Quakers during their program-best start. Entering the championship game at the Surf ‘N Slam Classic, they led the Ivy League defensively, giving up just 54 points per game.
Knapp plays an integral role in the Quakers’ early success. The captain is tied for first on the team in blocks, ranks second in steals and is always ready to take a charge in the lane.
However, six minutes into that game against San Diego State, Knapp fell awkwardly on her knee, an injury that would prevent her from returning.
Since the senior captain’s injury, Penn has given up an average of 67.9 points per game. In their first full game without the Carlsdstat, N.J., native, the Red and Blue were trounced by Princeton, 83-48. That matchup was the first all season in which the Quakers had allowed an opponent to score more than 70 points, despite having taken on No. 3 Notre Dame.
During the Princeton game Saturday, coach Mike McLaughlin threw numerous types of defenses at Princeton, none of which stunted the Tigers’ attack. Without Knapp, Penn’s defense “was a little uncertain,” according to McLaughlin.
As a team, the Quakers have already made great strides on the defensive end thus far in the season. Sophomore star guard Alyssa Baron has shown that her game is not one dimensional, as she is tied for the most blocks and leads the team in steals. In addition, freshmen Jackie Kates, Renee Busch and Kara Bonenberger have shown that they are capable on the defensive end.
“They each bring something a little different to the table,” McLaughlin said. “For instance, Renee is very physical. Kara takes up space in the middle. Jackie is willing to do whatever it takes.”
While they’ve shown promise, a good defender is someone who “can see one play ahead,” McLaughlin explained, and that acute understanding of the game comes with time. That experience and the ability to do the little things such as take a charge and consistently box out, was what made Knapp a valuable asset.
With the injury coming just before the Quakers finish up their Big 5 slate, Penn will have to accelerate its growth as a defensive unit or risk surrendering once promising season to fall apart.