It was the type of balanced attack coaches dream about, though it didn’t necessarily start that way.
Facing a winless opponent in LIU Brooklyn, the Penn women’s basketball team got off to an incredibly slow start but eventually pulled away for a 70-59 victory at the Palestra.
It was almost as if there was a lid on the basket in the early stages of the game, and the Quakers (2-2) failed to do much damage on the scoreboard.
Down double-digits a quarter of the way through the action, fans and players alike seemed content with Monday’s enormous victory over La Salle and willing to let Thursday’s non-conference game slip away.
“It was a combination of us not making shots and them changing up their defense,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “[LIU] deserved a lot of credit for how they came out.”
But Penn eventually flipped a switch.
Sophomore guard Rayne Connell provided the spark for the Red and Blue, a clear turning point impossible to detect in the box score.
“I thought Rayne Connell was as good as she’s been since she came to Penn,” McLaughlin said. “She’s an athletic guard that can get by people and get the other team in foul trouble.”
The sophomore only recorded four points but constantly put pressure on the Blackbirds (0-7), a team clearly lacking discipline.
After Connell’s jolt of energy, the Red and Blue were suddenly finding backdoor cutters, grabbing offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line.
Penn trailed 33-27 at the half, but carried momentum into the break.
With a second-half surge, the Quakers posted their highest point total of the season despite not shooting particularly well. They finished 19-for-49 from the floor, hitting just two of 14 shots from three-point range.
So how exactly did the Quakers reach 70 points?
By doing the dirty work.
Penn posted 18 second-chance points and drew 28 fouls on offense, earning 38 free throw attempts while making 30 of them.
And despite the shooting woes, Penn got huge contributions from three of its top players. Alyssa Baron unsurprisingly led the charge, tallying 15 points, but Thursday’s game marked the first extended look at what Kara Bonenberger and Sydney Stipanovich can do on the floor together.
The two each chipped in 13 points and combined for 15 rebounds, using size and hustle to gain an advantage over the Blackbirds’ forwards and center.
Bonenberger was adamant after the game that there is not a competition for playing time between the pair.
“It’s perfect,” the junior forward said. “Having her in there is great, especially because I can play a more natural four.”
What was most impressive about Stipanovich’s performance was her efficiency. The freshman was able to pick and choose her shots with every chance, resulting in a positive outcome.
She finished the game 4-for-4 from the floor and got herself to the free throw line four times, making five of her eight attempts.
With the game clearly in hand, McLaughlin was able to rest many of his key players. Bonenberger, Stipanovich and Meghan McCullough all played 25 minutes or less and 10 players scored at least two points.
The breather was much needed for a Quakers squad that will play their third game in six days on Saturday at Bucknell.
“Three games in one week is rough, but we can fight through it,” Bonenberger said.
“Getting a third straight [win] would be huge,” McLaughlin added. “It’s going to be a tough environment to play in, but it would be a nice finish to a great week.”
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