After dropping two straight to start the season, the stars are suddenly aligned for the Penn women’s basketball.
The Quakers (1-2) are fresh off their biggest Big 5 road victory in a long time and now play host to Long Island Brooklyn, a struggling team they blew out of the water, 54-40, last season in New York.
Alyssa Baron — who led all scorers with 17 points in last season’s matchup with the Blackbirds (0-6) — is fresh off a 23-point performance against La Salle that coach Mike McLaughlin believes was the spark to lead into another big year for the All-Ivy performer.
“She was aggressive at the right times,” McLaughlin said. “She made great decisions and was aggressive to the basket. She made her shots which really helped her.”
But her aggressiveness not only helps her scoring, but also everyone else around her. When Baron attacks the lane, defenders tend to collapse on her, allowing her to choose between shooting or dishing to an open teammate. Her last game on Monday was a model of just how efficient she could be, scoring 23 points while also contributing five assists and seven rebounds.
Adding to Penn’s advantage is senior point guard Meghan McCullough, who missed last season’s matchup after suffering a torn ACL in Penn’s third game. Her impact has been tremendous, especially in the absence of sophomore point guard Keiera Ray.
The senior is averaging a team-high 34.3 minutes per game and an Ivy League-best 4.3 assists per contest in the season’s first few weeks.
“Meg knows what it takes to win,” McLaughlin said. “She understands what her responsibilities are. She’ll adjust to anything.”
“Just being back on the court has been awesome,” McCullough said. “I’m doing the best I can to keep the team intact and show some leadership.”
McLaughlin and McCullough are both aware of how important this week is for the Red and Blue. With a Monday night win, the Quakers snapped their two-game losing streak and removed the burden that comes with being winless.
“Once you get the first one, they start rolling after,” McCullough said.
Though the Blackbirds are off to a tough, winless start, the Quakers will still need to be aware of Cleandra Roberts. The senior guard is LIU’s biggest threat, averaging 16 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per contest.
The key for the Red and Blue will be consistency.
“We have to maintain a high level for 40 minutes,” McLaughlin said. “[Monday], we were rewarded for being consistent for the whole game.”
Increasing the team’s ability to be consistent is the impressive play of freshmen Melanie Lockett and Sydney Stipanovich.
Lockett is yet another speedy guard with the ability to make plays, while Stipanovich has taken advantage of her early opportunities to play inside, averaging nine points and five rebounds per game.
With an aggressive forward like junior forward Kara Bonenberger who tends to accumulate fouls quickly (she fouled out of two of the first three games), Stipanovich gives McLaughlin the ability to freely sub in without worrying about a talent drop-off.
It isn’t always seamless. Integrating young freshmen with an experienced lineup takes time, but it’s time the Quakers will gladly take for the potential their freshmen have.
“We have to learn how to win as a group,” McLaughlin said, “learn to deal with some adversity and still find a way to win when things aren’t going our way.”
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