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Credit: Alex Fisher , Alex Fisher

Holding an opponent to 14 points in a half is not bad for a football team. But for a basketball team, holding an opponent to 14 points in a half is downright ridiculous.

On a quiet Tuesday night at the Palestra, Penn women’s basketball did just that, ceding only 14 points to Lafayette in the first half and dominating on defense en route to a 54-37 victory.

The Quakers (2-1) started the game with high intensity as they sought to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Leopards (0-2). After jumping out to an early 9-5 lead, the Red and Blue continued their defensive onslaught and did not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.

Junior center Sydney Stipanovich and sophomore forward Michelle Nwokedi dominated the boards from start to finish, notching nine and 10 rebounds, respectively. Nwokedi finished the game with a double-double — her second in the team’s first three games — while Stipanovich finished with a team-high 19 points.        

This dominant defensive duo is certainly something that has evolved since the Quakers took on Lafayette last year. After a successful freshman campaign, Nwokedi has settled in to her role as a starter and looks confident driving to the hoop as well as taking occasional pull-up jumpers.

Stipanovich, a co-captain and seasoned veteran, never fails to establish her presence on the court — both physically and as the team leader.

“Overall, we played good team defense,” the St. Louis native said. “And when we get big stops on defense, it carries over to offense too.”

Penn saw defensive success turn into offense all game. The team created its own extra opportunities throughout the night, forcing 17 Lafayette turnovers and grabbing 38 rebounds compared to only 26 for the Leopards.

While the Red and Blue displayed their defensive grit on one end of the floor, the team did not have its best offensive showing, shooting only 15 percent from behind the arc and 40 percent overall.

“I thought we did enough tonight,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Offensively, we weren’t great, but, defensively, we were consistent. The defense kept us in check.”

While McLaughlin credits the defense for the victory, he knows that the offense has the potential to be just as successful with a few tweaks.

“The biggest challenge for us is that we are playing Beth [Brzozowski], Anna [Ross] and Kasey [Chambers] together a lot, and they are all used to being the point guard and having the ball in their hands,” he said.

This year, Ross, a sophomore, has stepped in the two spot while Brzozowski provides a valuable presence off the bench. Because positions have shifted, McLaughlin acknowledges that it will take a little time before everything is in sync.

“I think moving to another position a little bit is challenging,” he said. “The spacing breaks down when point guards are used to going to always getting the ball, so I think we need a little bit of work on that end, but it’s comfortable that I got three players out there all the time that can handle the ball.”

One of these players is Chambers, one of the team’s four captains. For her, the first three games of the 2015 season have the been the first times that the 5-foot-7 guard has been able to the play for the Red and Blue, as she transferred from Monmouth and sat out last year due to NCAA rules.

Despite her year off, her enthusiasm for the game and her intensity on the court show no sign of rust.

“I’ve been impressed with Kasey since she walked on our campus,” McLaughlin said. “She’s got tremendous desire and will and all those intangibles that lead to someone who is so passionate about basketball.”

Chambers played 37 minutes on Tuesday, finishing with nine points, five rebounds and five assists.

The whirlwind start to the Quakers season — the team narrowly lost to Duke, a top-15 team in the nation, routed UMBC on the road and returned to the Palestra to down Lafayette — and the poise that this young group has shown so far only foreshadows good things to come for Penn women’s basketball.

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