In the wise words of Dorothy, there’s no place like home.
And while Philadelphia may be not Kansas, no words have been truer in the crosstown matchup between Penn and Drexel women's basketball.
Coming into Saturday’s edition of the Battle for 33rd Street, the home team had won the past five games. The trend continued this weekend, with the Quakers outlasting the Dragon in a thrilling 72-67 victory at the Palestra. The game was especially memorable because it marked Penn coach Mike McLaughlin’s 500th collegiate victory, only the 30th active Division I coach to reach that milestone.
The Red and Blue (6-2) began the contest with an evident game plan. A healthy mix of lane penetration and three-point shooting propelled Penn to an early lead but, the Dragons matched the Quakers’ interior dominance with red hot shooting of their own. The result was a slim 18-16 Penn lead after the first quarter.
Drexel (3-6) began the second quarter with much more energy, although never grabbing hold of the lead. The Red and Blue extended their advantage primarily through sophomore guard Beth Brzozowski, who rattled home two important triples in the period.
“My goal coming into games from the bench is to add a spark,” Brzozowski said. “I’m always looking to make a couple baskets and gain back any lost momentum. I think I did that today.”
Penn took a 41-33 lead into the locker room at the half, with all signs pointing towards a comfortable second half and victory.
Despite late first half indicators, the Dragons simply would not be put away, and they came out of the break firing. A few tough buckets from senior guard Rachel Pearson cut into the Penn lead, while the Quakers started the half with a metaphorical “lid on the basket.” A new sense of urgency grew for both teams as Drexel pulled the game back to a 55-55 tie to end the period.
Defense highlighted a back-and-forth final quarter of play, with neither team able to pull away. The teams entered the final three minutes tied at 63-63 with the promise of an electrifying finale. A crucial moment in the game occurred with two minutes remaining, when Drexel forward Jackie Schluth fouled out after scoring 13 points. The loss of their star forward would prove a huge blow for the Dragons offensively, as good defense combined with stellar free throw shooting down the stretch allowed Penn to clinch the game and win, 72-67.
A huge contributor in the Red and Blue’s inordinately robust offensive performance was junior forward Sydney Stipanovich, who quietly netted a season-high 27 points for the Quakers. Even more impressive than the point total was the consistency with which she scored — 14 of her points came in the first half, and 13 in the second. Down the stretch, Stipanovich was Penn’s go-to scoring option, as she clearly carried the hot hand throughout the contest.
“I really focused on getting deeper in the paint today,” Stipanovich said. “In some of the past few games I was settling for jump shots, which I’ve been working on but isn’t really my strength.”
Another telling statistic in Saturday’s win was the rebounding margin. Penn out-rebounded Drexel 34 to 24, with many of the rebounds on the offensive side of the ball leading to easy put-back buckets for the Quakers.
“I think our rebounding was a real key to today’s win,” Stipanovich said. “Drexel is a great shooting team and one of the important factors was always going to be limiting their second-chance opportunities.”
Following the game, a presentation was made commemorating McLaughlin’s landmark victory. Spectators Penn and Drexel alike rose to their feet to salute the coach in his seventh year at the helm of Penn women’s basketball.
“It’s incredible,” Brzozowski said. “What kind of coach wins 500 games, let alone do it as quickly as he has? We are all so proud to be a part of today’s victory.”
“We’re all so happy for him,” Stipanovich added. “No one deserves it more than he does. As players, the rest of the team and I really wanted to get this win for him.”
Next up for the Quakers is a battle with Wagner on Monday at 1 p.m., also at the Palestra.
“Overall, it’s been a great day,” Stipanovich said. “This is one we’ll remember for a long time. We can’t wait to carry this momentum into Monday, and hopefully this is the start of a winning streak.”Comments powered by Disqus
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