Earlier this season, the Penn women’s basketball team faced a significant challenge when it lost to last year’s national runner-up, Notre Dame.
The next three games present a task nearly as tough.
This Saturday, the Quakers resume their Big 5 slate against St. Joseph’s, followed by Villanova and Temple later in the week. Though the Red and Blue (7-4, 0-1 Big 5) secured a monumental victory against La Salle last season, it was the team’s only win in the city series since 2004.
Currently in the midst of a crisis after losing senior captain Jess Knapp to injury, Penn has suffered significant losses at the hands of San Diego State, Princeton and NJIT. The three-game skid is its longest of the season.
“Right now we have a lot of young players who are starting to doubt themselves a bit,” coach Mike McLaughlin admitted.
The Quakers are in serious danger of losing all the momentum they had built up during their record-breaking start.
If they can’t pull off a victory against one of the three upcoming Big 5 teams that they have historically struggled mightily against, the Red and Blue could be looking at a six-game losing streak before resuming its Ivy League schedule.
“Our mentality hasn’t changed. We’ve just gotten away from Penn basketball over the last few games,” said senior co-captain Jourdan Banks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Hawks (10-5, 0-1) enter Saturday’s tilt breathing fire — they have won eight of their last 10 and just had a five-game wining streak snapped by Dayton.
Though St. Joe’s doesn’t feature a single premier scorer — senior guard Michelle Baker leads the way with 10.8 points per game — it does have six players averaging at least seven points and 20 minutes per contest. Its balanced attack has put up an average of 67.5 points per game, 14 more than Penn has managed.
“They can score on the inside, outside and shoot the three,” McLaughlin said. “We can try and slow them down, but ultimately we’re going to have to score more points to beat teams [like the Hawks].”
The Red and Blue last defeated St. Joe’s in 2004 — their only win against the Hawks since the teams began playing each other in 1973. The last two have been particularly humbling, coming by 17- and 15-point margins.
Banks, however, doesn’t think there is any residual effect from past losses.
“It changes each year. Every St. Joe’s team is different just like every Penn team is different.”
Penn will need to correct its sputtering offense if it hopes to keep pace with the Hawks. Over its last three losses, the team hasn’t even been able to reach 50 points.
McLaughlin attributed the scoring drought to a recent uptick in competition.
“Going up against big athletic teams like Princeton has given us trouble,” he said.
Though the Quakers enjoyed a remarkable start to their season, it will matter little if they cannot get back on track before resuming their Ivy slate on Jan. 27 against Columbia.