KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – For the first nine minutes, Penn women’s basketball looked like it could hang with the No. 4 team in the country.
But in the end, Tennessee proved too much for the Quakers, as expected.
In the Quakers’ season opener, the Lady Volunteers took down the Red and Blue, 97-52, in front of a large crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee (1-0) used a 47-8 run that spanned both halves to end any hope of a Quakers’ upset.
The defending Ivy League champions Penn (0-1) started out hot, looking determined to take down the defending SEC champion Vols with eight national titles on their resume.
The Quakers’ early success came from a balanced attack, spreading the ball with four different players scoring Penn’s first four baskets. Senior captain and forward Kara Bonenberger was strong early alongside sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich .
"[It was] a tremendous atmosphere for our players to learn and develop,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I’m proud the way we came out. We really challenged ourselves for the first 10-12 minutes.”
However, the Lady Volunteers got Bonenberger into early foul trouble, with two quick fouls in the first five minutes and four in the first half.
Stipanovich’s impact was mostly felt on the defensive end, blocking six shots in the first half after setting Penn’s program reord for blocks during her freshman season.
“From the get-go, I wasn’t expecting her to come out blocking shots like that,” Tennessee junior forward Bashaara Graves said. “Everyone had to change the way they were going to the basket.”
But after Penn took a 20-17 lead on a Stipanovich jumper, the Lady Volunteers took over and thoroughly beat the Red and Blue.
Tennessee’s attack was consistent and fierce, using its superior strength and Bonenberger’s early foul trouble to dominate inside. In the first half, the Lady Volunteers had 15 offensive rebounds to just 14 overall rebounds for Penn.
And using its speed and shooting, Tennessee torched the Quakers in transition, going on a 14-0 run that put Penn out of the game for good. By halftime, the Vols had a 47-25 lead that would only grow.
“We couldn’t score for a while, and I think we lost control of the pace of the game, the tempo, everything on that line,” McLaughlin said. “We gave them too many run-outs, too many open-court baskets. [We] just couldn’t get back.
“We started sending two [players] back, and that still at times wasn’t enough.”
Led by Graves, freshman guard Alexa Middleton and junior center Nia Moore , Tennessee took over on both ends. Graves and Moore were dominant in the post while Middleton displayed her sharp shooting from three-point range in her first college game.
Penn’s two freshman point guards, Anna Ross and Beth Brzozowski , acquitted themselves well in their first collegiate action. Each was able to handle Tennessee’s early pressure and add something offensively for the Quakers.
Down the stretch, Brzozowski gained confidence and began driving the ball on virtually every possession. She finished with 11 points and four assists, leading Penn in both categories while looking strong running the point in her debut.
“This is a tough environment for anyone to start their career, and I thought they did a good job,” McLaughlin said. “They played in spurts. Anna had a good start and was a little choppy the rest of the way. Beth had a good ending.
“I give them a lot of credit. They challenged themselves. They played against a tremendous opponent, and they held their own.”
Stipanovich finished with nine points, four rebounds and her six first-half blocks, while Bonenberger and senior captain Kathleen Roche added nine and seven points, respectively.
Meanwhile, Moore, Graves and senior center Isabelle Harrison each had double-doubles during the Lady Vols’ dominant opener. Middleton finished with 20 points, while Moore led all scorers with 24 points.
For the Quakers’ young squad, this game will be valuable seasoning as it gets back in action on Wednesday against La Salle at the Palestra.
“I think it is great experience to come and play in this environment at Tennessee, a historic place to play,” Roche said. “I think those first 12 minutes — we really took it to them. Going forward, we just want to learn to play straight through all 40 minutes.”Comments powered by Disqus
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