This one's for the history books.
In the final Big 5 matchup of the season, Penn women's basketball took down Temple, 74-59, to earn a share of the Big 5 title for the first time since 2014-2015 and only the second in team history. The Quakers will share the title with Villanova, who they took down in a thrilling game last week.
Junior guard Ashley Russell paced the way for the Quakers (10-5, 3-1 Big 5) with a career-high 19 points, including the first seven of the game. In typical fashion, the Braintree, Mass. native was flying all over the court, and she filled out the rest of the stat sheet with a career-best nine rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.
"Just ball movement, especially with having such an eye on Eleah [Parker] and Michelle [Nwokedi] down low, that kind of opens up our perimeter a lot," said Russell when asked about the key to her success.
But even with Russell having a great individual game, the story of the contest was the full team effort. Especially in the first half, all five players on the floor played cohesively on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the Red and Blue had one of their best passing games of the season. As a team, they raked up 20 assists, but the numbers don't do it justice. Eight different Quakers recorded an assist, and the team did an excellent job of making the extra pass to find an open look.
And on defense, the big number was 16: turnovers committed by the Owls. Penn's defense smothered Temple (9-10, 2-2), coming up with big stops seemingly at will to quell any attempt at a comeback.
"They turned the ball over in it," McLaughlin said of his team's 2-2-1 zone. "They did make a couple shots, they did spread us wide, but they did turn it over, and I thought that was a reason to stay in it."
Another big reason for the defensive dominance was yet another strong game down low from freshman star Eleah Parker. The rookie had three blocks, two of which she emphatically swatted away, and continued to make her presence known.
While the seniors had already experienced a Big 5 title during their freshman season, no one else on the team has seen the team win this title. And with it being just the second time in school history that the Quakers have finished in first, there's plenty of reason to rejoice.
"I want them to celebrate," McLaughlin said. "Anytime we do something successful I want them to celebrate, that's what they were trying to do."
And celebrate they did. The team could be heard cheering in the locker room from the court, and everyone was smiling as they left the arena.
But the celebration cannot last long. The Quakers have one more game before they return to Ivy play. But after they take on Gywnedd Mercy on Sunday, all eyes are on the Ancient Eight.
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