On Senior Night — two and a half weeks ago — Penn women’s basketball clinched its automatic berth in the WNIT following a 59-33 win over Yale that guaranteed the Quakers at least second place in the Ivy League.
It wasn’t until the beginning of this week that Penn (20-8) knew it would be hosting Hofstra at the Palestra on Thursday. Staying on campus bodes well for the Red and Blue — they’ve posted a 12-4 record at home so far this season.
“I was really happy,” coach Mike McLaughlin said of the home game. “I know the players are happy about the opportunity to play here again.”
For McLaughlin and the rest of the coaching staff, it’s the reward for a season that saw the Quakers post 20 wins for the second straight year and just third time in history. The team also finished with a share of the Big 5 title for the first time in program history, winning three of its four games and tying with Villanova atop the historic Philadelphia rivalry.
For the Quakers’ seniors, it’s an opportunity to postpone their farewell to the Palestra in what may be their final home game.
“We were really hoping for the host seed. Thinking back to sophomore year when we hosted here, it was just so much fun,” senior captain Kathleen Roche said. “Especially, being seniors being able to play on the Palestra court again.”
Roche — along with fellow senior captains Kara Bonenberger, Renee Busch and Katy Allen — is making her third trip to the postseason. Penn lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Texas last season and made a deep run in the Women’s Basketball Invitational in 2012-13, falling in the semifinals after wins against Howard and Fairfield.
For the team’s freshmen — many of whom have played significant roles this season — it’s the first taste of collegiate postseason play and an opportunity to extend an already excellent rookie season.
“These freshman now, they’ve played enough they’re not [playing like] freshman now,” McLaughlin said of his young players. “They’re experienced. I’m comfortable with where we sit today.”
Regardless, Hofstra (20-12) poses a number of challenges for Penn.
The Pride finished just six points away from an NCAA Tournament berth, losing, 62-56, to James Madison in the CAA Championship game after finishing third in the conference during the regular season.
Two underclassmen guards — sophomore Kelly Loftus and freshman Ashunae Durant — lead the team in scoring with 12.2 and 11.2 points per game respectively. However, the team has struggled to shoot the ball from deep, hitting just 26.7% of its three-point attempts.
“We’re looking at an athletic group of guards. Loftus can really shoot the three and they can really offensive rebound,” McLaughlin said. “The three keys for us are to limit the open court turnovers, rebound the basketball on both ends and be able to execute on dead ball situations.”
In the frontcourt, Penn will have to handle sophomore forwards Elo Edeferioka and Anjie White, who stand 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-2 respectively. Penn will shift around its frontcourt rotation slightly to limit Bonenberger’s minutes as she recovers from a knee injury suffered against Princeton.
“We’re just going to play Kara as long as Kara can go. We’re going to bounce everything off her. If she feels good, she’s going to go.” McLaughlin said.
“Katy Allen will be good [filling in those minutes]. It opens things up a spot ... for Sade [Gibbons] to play a bigger role.”
Even with Bonenberger limited, the Quakers figure to continue to run their offense through forwards Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi as they have down the stretch. The pair combined to average 23.0 points and 15.0 rebounds in the team’s conference schedule, commonly referred to as the 14-game tournament.
“Now we’re in a win-or-go-home type situation. I think it’s a good thing. We play that in our league. Every game is that important,” McLaughlin said.
“They’re excited. They just want to get out there.”Comments powered by Disqus
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