They’re off to the best start in school history. Let’s see if they can keep it going.
Penn women’s basketball travels to La Salle on Monday night hoping to improve upon its five-game winning streak. The Quakers (10-2, 1-0 Ivy) are coming into the game after sweeping their winter break slate, including a two-game swing through Hawaii and a win over rival Princeton at the Palestra.
The Red and Blue enter their bout with the Explorers (3-14, 0-5 Atlantic 10) with nine non-conference wins, one short of a program record. They’ll have three chances to set it, as they will head to Temple and Villanova before resuming Ivy play in two weeks.
Although the 50-48 victory over the Tigers was impressive, the Quakers will not dwell on it. According to coach Mike McLaughlin, the team has keyed in on La Salle.
“We took [the Princeton win] for what it was. It was one game; it was a nice game, but we’ve moved on. We’re trying to get better this week and get ready for La Salle. It’s really been that simple.”
With nine days between Princeton and La Salle, the Red and Blue took advantage of the chance to rest and go a little slower in practice.
“Each day in practice we worked on one thing that we really wanted to focus on,” McLaughlin said. “One day we talked about transition and transition defense. We worked on our half-court sets for a little more. … It gave us the chance to really break down things at a slow pace.”
Junior center Sydney Stipanovich and sophomore forward Michelle Nwokedi have been the Quakers' two go-to players, ranking 1-2 in points, rebounds and blocks on the team. Stipanovich has already racked up three Ivy League Player of the Week awards while averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 boards, and Nwokedi is currently averaging a double-double with 15.3 points and 10.8 rebounds. McLaughlin said their cohesiveness in the frontcourt has allowed them to take their play to another level this season.
“I think the chemistry is phenomenal. They’re both really skilled, they both are selfless players that want to win,” McLaughlin said. “Their chemistry on the court is great and I think that’s because they’re really good friends.”
Given the loss of four key seniors to graduation after last season, Stipanovich and Nwokedi have eased the transition, but the Quakers are still looking for more depth. Last year, then-senior Kathleen Roche was the only player to average greater than 30 minutes per game. So far, Stipanovich, Nwokedi, sophomore guard Anna Ross, and junior Kasey Chambers have all exceeded that mark.
After hovering around the .500 clip for the past few seasons, the Explorers have slipped this season and currently sit 3-14 on the heels of a five-game losing streak. La Salle, which has not had a winning record since the 2006-07 campaign, relies on guard/forward Amy Griffin (17.6 points per game) and forward Micahya Owens (12.6) for most of its offense. However, Griffin (39.5 percent shooting) and Owens (30.1 percent) have both struggled shooting the ball this season, and as a result, the Explorers have a -12.1 average margin of defeat.
McLaughlin believes La Salle has been plagued by inconsistency and is a dangerous team when hot.
“They go through streaks where they play really good basketball. They’re athletic, they have guards that can play, and they can score the ball at times. They go through periods where they can be very good. I think it’s going to be a battle, a typical Big 5 game.”
Which is why, in practice, McLaughlin's squad focused on what they know best.
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