Last season, Sydney Stipanovich became the first player in Ivy League history to win the Ancient Eight's Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
If the sophomore puts together a few more games like her performance on Monday night against UMBC, she may add Player of the Year to her already loaded trophy case in the near future.
Nine days after Penn women's basketball's disappointing loss to Drexel, one in which Stipanovich notched only eight points and three rebounds in 23 minutes, the Red and Blue rebounded in style with a 69-63 win over the Retrievers due in large part to the second-year center's incredible outing.
Despite battling a UMBC (5-5) frontcourt highlighted by three players over six-feet tall, Stipanovich recorded 29 points and 14 rebounds while senior forward Kara Bonenberger added 14 points and eight boards of her own as the Quakers (5-4) won for only the second time in December.
After the game, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin was not only impressed with his frontcourt's production, but the ability of his team to respond to a short winter break.
"This is a group that only got four or five days home for Christmas yet they all probably wanted to spend more time at home," McLaughlin said. "To come back to a campus that's dead and for them to put in three hard days of practice, tonight was a nice effort and a nice team win.
"That's all I really want to talk about because they sacrifice a lot and it's nice that it was rewarded with a win."
After senior guard Renee Busch hit a three to open the game and give the Quakers an early lead, the two squads battled evenly in the early going. Five minutes in, UMBC led by one after two baskets from junior guard Liz McNaughton.
However, that would be the Retrievers only lead of the night. A Stipanovich bucket was sandwiched by three-point plays by guards Anna Ross and Kathleen Roche and Penn's 8-0 run gave the Quakers some breathing room midway through the opening period.
But UMBC did not go quietly. The Retrievers matched Penn every step of the way throughout the first 20 minutes and headed into halftime down only four, 30-26.
All of this despite Stipanovich's tremendous first half. The St. Louis native notched her 13th career double-double by halftime and scored 13 of the Quakers' final 15 points of the period, including Penn's last 12 points before the break.
"She was terrific tonight," McLaughlin said. "Sydney's been battling a little bit of an injury bug all year and for her to come out here and play the way she did is something I'm really proud of.
"In my mind, she was the best player on the floor by far."
Stipanovich eclipsed her career high in points early in the second half as the Red and Blue used a 16-4 run over the course of the first eight minutes of the period to open up a 46-30 lead.
But UMBC managed to battle back. Over the course of the next seven minutes, junior guard Capree Garner scored two of her team-high 19 points and McNaughton canned two threes to shrink the Retrievers' deficit to seven with 5:02 to play.
Still with a six-point lead with just over two minutes remaining, Busch hit a clutch three -- her second of the game -- to push Penn's advantage back to nine. Garner responded with a three of her own and UMBC twice cut the deficit to four with under a minute to go.
But the Red and Blue hit enough shots from the charity stripe to seal the game, a win that marked Penn's tenth in its past 11 games at the Palestra.
The Quakers will play a tuneup against Division III King's College on Dec. 31 before two of their biggest matchups of the season: another home contest, this time against Temple, before traveling to play Princeton in Jadwin Gym on Jan. 10.
"We're seeing all different styles of play and understanding where we are and what we need to improve," McLaughlin said. "But these games are testing us before we get into Ivy League play and helping us head in the right direction."
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