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Womens Basketball vs. La Salle Credit: Thomas Munson , Thomas Munson

Strong defensive efforts have been a staple of Penn women’s basketball in the Mike McLaughlin era.

And Wednesday night was no different. In a game that started with the raising of the Quakers’ 2013-14 championship banner, Penn took control from the get-go, stifling La Salle in a 57-29 victory.

Sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich put together her first double-double of the season, and 11th of her career, with 15 points and 15 rebounds.

With Explorers senior guard Alicia Cropper sitting out due to injury, the Quakers (1-1) defense had little trouble holding La Salle (0-2) to 22.0 percent shooting on the night. The 29 points allowed are the fewest by a Penn team in McLaughlin’s era as coach and the fewest since a 1995 game against Temple.

“When [Alicia] Cropper was out, we didn’t change what we were going to do,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.

“We smothered their perimeter players and Sydney [Stipanovich] was really good defensively in the middle. That’s the way we were going to play, whether she’s in or not.”

The Red and Blue kicked it into high gear offensively to begin the game, knocking down seven of their first 10 shots to claim a 16-6 lead through the first eight minutes of play.

The Quakers would cool down as the half progressed, ending the half on a 1-for-9 shooting stretch that saw them fail to make a field goal in the last six and a half minutes. However, defense proved to be enough, as La Salle ended the half with more turnovers (15) than points (13).

“It started on the defensive end [early], we were really aggressive on defense and that helped us pick up our offense,” Stipanovich said. “Kathleen [Roche] knocked down a couple shots and we got a flow going.”

Penn would eventually end its basket-less drought on a Stipanovich jumper, though the offense would never heat up to its early first-half dominance. The Quakers would finish the game shooting just 36.4 percent, but a strong defensive effort was sufficient to carry them.

Freshman guard Anna Ross got the start in her second collegiate game and put together an efficient performance, scoring seven points on 3-for-4 shooting to go along with four rebounds and four assists.

Junior guard Keiera Ray was another bright spot for the Quakers, looking fully healthy for the first time in a while. She put up a season-high six points and two assists in 19 minutes of play.

Penn’s win was the Quakers’ third in a row against La Salle — the first time the Red and Blue have tallied three-straight from 1999-2002.

However, Big 5 play is certainly not the focus of Penn’s play, as McLaughlin was quick to enunciate.

“Our goal — we look to win every game and if it’s the Big 5, that’s awesome,” he said. “We won two games last year and we were in the two other ones. The intensity of these games lets our kids turn it up another level.”

The win was McLaughlin’s fifth against the Big 5. The team looks to build off of a program-best two Big 5 wins last season. Penn won’t have another game of that variety until early January against Saint Joseph’s.

Penn takes to the court against Navy this weekend and will look to continue to build upon their defensive success.

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