They're perfect for a reason. Penn women's basketball found that out the hard way...again.
Despite a strong effort in the game's first 25 minutes and energized play from forwards Michelle Nwokedi and Sydney Stipanovich, the Red and Blue could not overcome a run from Princeton midway through the second half, falling, 55-42, in the teams' regular season finale.
With the win, the Tigers (30-0, 14-0 Ivy) became the first team in Ivy League history to start a season with 30 consecutive wins, and will enter the NCAA Tournament as the lone undefeated squad in women's college basketball.
Unlike when Penn (20-8, 11-3) met Princeton two months ago on the Tigers' home floor, the Quakers managed to stay within striking distance for a majority of the contest. The first half was a drawn out slugfest, with neither team able to seize a lead larger than seven points.
Nwokedi -- who was quiet in only 11 minutes in the Red and Blue's Jan. 10 game at Jadwin Gym -- made her presence known from the very beginning on Tuesday. The presumptive Ivy League Rookie of the Year pulled in Penn's first three defensive boards en route to a 13-point, 14-rebound performance.
Due in large part to the squads' defensive toughness, neither team lit up the scoreboard in the opening period. Despite having a plethora of open looks, the Quakers missed 11 of their 12 three-point attempts in the first 20 minutes while the Tigers converted only 36.7 percent of their own shots.
"The game was right where we wanted it in terms of the score," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "I thought we had better control of the pace than we did the first time, I thought we rebounded the ball at times effectively.
"Our effort was great, our intensity level was great. But give them a lot of credit, their defense was really solid."
While Penn was paced by Nwokedi's double-double and 13 points from Stipanovich, Princeton showed off two stellar forwards of its own. Junior Alex Wheatley led all scorers with 17 points and chipped in 12 rebounds while fellow junior Annie Tarakchian had a double-double as well, notching 10 points and 12 boards.
Trailing 26-21 at halftime, the Quakers opened the second stanza aggressively on the offensive end. After Stipanovich and Nwokedi each converted two free throws, Penn could get no closer than a one-point deficit as the game progressed.
Despite battling back and forth, the Red and Blue failed to take advantage of five possessions on which they could have taken the lead. And after a jumper by senior Kara Bonenberger cut the Tigers' lead to one yet again, Princeton pounced with 14-4 run to open up its first double-digit lead of the day.
From that point on, the Tigers stood tall. Princeton overcame several small outbursts by the Quakers, including a brief window in which it seemed Penn may make a run after Bonenberger left the game due to a knee injury.
"I think we took ourselves out of the game at points," senior Kathleen Roche said. "Their pressure was terrific and their defense was really great tonight. But I think a few shots that we would make on other nights changed how the game went. Give them credit, they're a great team."
Once the final buzzer sounded, the two teams bore witness to what is becoming an increasingly familiar sight: the road victor celebrating an Ivy League title on its opponent's home court. Though the Tigers had the Ancient Eight crown wrapped up entering Tuesday's action, Princeton refused to celebrate until after it completed its perfect regular season.
"I think it's important [to compete with Princeton] because it shows the growth we had from the beginning to the end of the season," McLaughlin said. "I think it shows that we can compete, no doubt. These girls are winners and they've played on the big stage, they've handled themselves well against a really good team.
"I'm happy for Princeton, but I'm really proud of our girls."
Up next for the Tigers is the Big Dance. Though it is unclear whether or not Princeton will host a game in the NCAA Tournament, the Quakers know acquiring the Ivy League's first-ever at-large berth to the Round of 64 is virtually impossible after Tuesday's loss.
Penn will most likely be on the road for its first matchup in the WNIT late next week.Comments powered by Disqus
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