If you’re going to beat Penn women’s basketball, you’re going to need to hit the treys. And that's exactly what Villanova did.
As the Wildcats rained down threes, the Quakers offered little in response as their Big 5 title hopes dissipated on the road Tuesday, falling 66-46 at the Pavilion.
The game didn’t look like it would be ugly at the start. Forwards Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi logged strong first quarters for the Red and Blue (12-3, 2-2 Big 5), accounting for the team’s first 15 points.
But the Wildcats (13-7, 3-1) flashed signs of what the rest of the game had in store.
“We had a great first quarter,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought the score was getting a little too high for us. I know we scored 24 points, but they were scoring 5 or 6 threes in that first quarter.”
Despite a 24-20 Penn lead through the opening frame, all but one of Villanova’s points came from beyond the three-point arc. At first, it seemed that Penn was going to be able to go toe to toe offensively with their hosts, but the well quickly dried up.
Following the 24-point first quarter, the Quakers scored only 13 points in the next 20 minutes, just as their city rival was just getting going.
The Red and Blue boast one of the best defenses inside the arc that the Ivy League has to offer — Nwokedi and Stipanovich are top in the league in blocks and rebounds — but the Wildcats showed that Penn can be felled by the trey. Granted, when any opponent shoots 17-for-41 from three, it’s going to be hard to win.
Yet it was an anemic offensive performance that defined Penn’s night. In the first half, only Stipanovich and Nwokedi found the basket multiple times for the Quakers, and although sophomore guard Anna Ross was effective moving the ball — she piled up four assists in the opening frame — the team’s three starting guards only shot 4-for-16 from the field.
“I think we needed a guard to make a play off the dribble or to make a shot and take some pressure off [Nwokedi and Stipanovich] too,” McLaughlin said. “That didn’t happen. I know [sophomore guard] Beth [Brzozowski] had a couple pull-ups that went in and out. Again, if we had just made a couple shots there, maybe we could have kept control, but that’s not what happened.”
Photo by Riley Steele
Stipanovich ended the night with a team-high 18 points and seven rebounds as reigning Big 5 Player of the Week, and Nwokedi’s 11 made her the only other member of the Red and Blue to score more than five.
Even with Villanova’s strong end to the first half, though, it was still only a nine-point game at the midpoint. And for a brief moment in the third, it looked like the Penn team that took Duke down to the wire had returned.
Quickly, that moment was gone.
A Nwokedi free throw and Stipanovich basket opened the third quarter and made it just a six-point affair. Then the threes came; The Wildcats went on a 20-0 run off of six threes and, from that point, the game was no longer in question.
"At the start of the third quarter, we hit a couple shots and started to bring it back," McLaughlin noted. "But then they moved back and hit two or three threes again, and I just thought our body language from there said that it was going to be a challenge, and we just couldn’t guard from the arc.”
As the Wildcats rained down threes, the Quakers offered little in response as their Big 5 title hopes dissipated on Tuesday, falling 66-46 at the Pavilion.
Villanova moved the ball effectively around the perimeter, and as the game wore on, Penn's defenders also wore down. It didn't matter that the Red and Blue won the final quarter, 9-6. The game had already been decided.
As it unfolded, there seemed to be little that could have been done to stop the newly crowned Big 5 champions.
“I was hoping a couple timeouts from a couple weeks ago would carry over,” McLaughlin joked after the game.
“I was trying to break their momentum in some way possible, but they start making threes like that, and we’re trying to play two for threes, and that never works out in your advantage.”
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