A milestone was reached in more ways than one Friday evening for the Penn women’s basketball team.
Junior Alyssa Baron reached her 1,000th career point on the same night the Quakers, for the first time in program history, defeated La Salle for a second straight time at the Palestra. The women followed up a 45-40 win two years ago with a 65-56 win in this year’s matchup.
“These girls did a great job preparing to be a better team, and we got rewarded tonight,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Wins against Big 5 opponents have not come easily for the Quakers (1-3), who entered the game 1-29 in their last 30 tries against Big 5 foes.
“It was definitely a big accomplishment. Big 5 wins are hard to come by,” Baron said. “Pulling out a Big 5 win is huge for our team and for our program.”
After close losses in each of the first three games, the victory is a relief for McLaughlin and his team.
“We played to win all the way through and not to hang on like we did against Virginia,” McLaughlin said.
Although the game was close until the last few minutes, the Red and Blue trailed for just 32 ticks of the entire contest.
La Salle (1-6) had its first lead with 7:39 left to play in the first half. But 19 seconds later, Penn was back on top.
In the second half, the Explorers led, 46-44, for a brief 13 seconds until Baron knocked down a three-pointer, eclipsing the 1,000-point mark and giving her team the lead for good. She finished with 15 points and a career-high nine assists.
Penn’s play was not without fault, as 17 fouls against the Quakers and 19 offensive rebounds surrendered allowed La Salle to stay in the game. Those offensive boards led to a 15-4 advantage in second-chance points for the Explorers.
“Some of the fouls we committed five to seven feet from the basket piled up on us,” McLaughlin said. “Most of the offensive rebounds were in the second half. We have shown a little bit of weakness in the second half.”
The Explorers struggled early with Penn’s full-court press, which forced two shot clock violations and many hurried shots.
La Salle guard Brittany Wilson had 20 second-half points to fuel the Explorers’ offense. After trailing, 29-21, at the half, two quick Wilson threes narrowed the gap to just two points.
For Penn, sophomore Kara Bonenberger led the way with 16 points, shooting 8-for-9 from the field. The 6-foot-1 forward got started early, scoring 10 of Penn’s first 12 points.
“I just tried to do the best I could for the team and get us off to a great start,” Bonenberger said. “By then everyone else was making their shots.”
Renee Busch added 13 points off the bench on 4-for-5 shooting.
“Renee is in here working harder than anyone at shooting the basketball,” McLaughlin said. “I have a great deal of confidence in her.”
McLaughlin said at the beginning of the season that finding scorers to complement Baron and Bonenberger was a focus this season, and the Quakers showed what happens when they find those next scorers.
“Today, Renee Busch and Courtney Wilson stepped up big time,” Baron said. “Keiera Ray, starting at point guard, handled the ball perfectly and handled their pressure.”
Ray, starting in place of injured junior Megan McCullough, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, has emerged in her freshman season as a viable third option for the Red and Blue.
“Megan was a great person on the court, and she has amazing heart,” Bonenberger said. “Her presence is still there, and we’re going to go out there and fight for her.”
Junior Courtney added seven points and four blocks coming off the bench. The Quakers also received long-distance help from Busch, who went 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
Baron became the third-fastest Penn player to reach the 1,000-point mark in her career. The contest also marked her 60th straight start for the Quakers.
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