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With 10 points and 19 rebounds, junior forward Sydney Stipanovich logged her 10th double-double of the season as Penn women's basketball took down Brown, 69-59.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

“It was a junior high school 2-3 zone that we were scared of. And it was really, really competitive Penn kids who made plays.”

That very defense held Princeton coach Courtney Banghart’s squad to 48 points on Saturday, as Penn women’s basketball downed the Tigers to open Ivy play, 50-48. It was Princeton’s first conference loss since the Quakers (10-2, 1-0 Ivy) clinched the Ivy title at Jadwin Gymnasium in March 2014.

The Red and Blue shot only 27.4 percent from the field, but it was just enough, as junior Sydney Stipanovich’s 12 points and 11 rebounds paved the way for the two-point victory.

“We’ve been in some really close games and we’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of them,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It really helped them.

“But the magnitude of a Penn-Princeton or an Ivy win is something special. I think the team understands that it’s one in a long season ahead of us, but I’m just really proud.”

Offensive production was scarce early, with Penn capturing a 5-2 lead midway through the first period. Up two at the end of the frame, the Red and Blue went into the break leading, 21-15, as the Tigers (11-4, 0-1) were held to just 6-for-31 shooting in the first half and five second-quarter points.

Out of the break, things got interesting.

After the Quakers captured their largest advantage of the day up by 10, a 13-0 run for Princeton opened up a 29-26 lead with 3:30 left in the third period. 

But junior Kasey Chambers broke the drought with a jumper before the Quakers’ freshmen gave them some life.

In just her third game of the year, freshman Ashley Russell drained a three to put Penn up 34-33. Two free throws from Princeton’s Vanessa Smith with seconds left in the third quarter gave the Tigers a one-point advantage heading into the fourth. The foul to send Smith to the line was the fourth on Stipanovich, calling to question what McLaughlin would do with his frontcourt in a tight final frame.

The reigning Ivy League Player of the Week, Michelle Nwokedi, had been quiet on the night until the fourth quarter rolled around. After a steal from sophomore Anna Ross, the sophomore forward decided to throw a shot up from three.

It fell.

Although the 39-38 lead the basket gave the Quakers would soon vanish, control of the game changed perceptibly. With just over three minutes to go and the Tigers up, 44-43, leading-scorer Alex Wheatley fouled out and put Penn in the bonus for the rest of the day.

The Quakers extended the lead to three as Stipanovich came back off the bench to nail a jumper with 2:15 to play. But by the time the final minute rolled around, Penn’s lead was just one.

Yet Stipanovich’s smart play with four fouls made a difference down the stretch, as the Tigers were unable to keep players with foul trouble in the game.

“I know that, once I got into foul trouble, I just had to play smart, stay straight up," she said. "And I think that’s achieving a great team defense, in the 2-3 and in our man.”

With 25 seconds to play, Princeton took another blow as Smith, whose 10 points were second on the team, fouled out while guarding Nwokedi.

The Tigers still had the chance to win down one. Senior forward Annie Tarakchian put up a shot to give her squad the lead with 10 seconds to go and it rimmed out. Nwokedi nabbed the board and a foul was called as she got the ball out to sophomore Beth Brzozowski.

As Brzozowski stepped to the line, the referees huddled before reviewing the foul and sending Nwokedi to the line instead. This drew protests from Banghart after the game.

“The rules are that if you send the wrong person to the free throw line it’s a technical foul," she said. "The wrong person went to the free throw line. … And the refs just said ‘We’re sorry about that.’”

With Nwokedi at the line — up one with 8.9 seconds to play — the first shot fell. The second rimmed out as Princeton took the ball and a time out.

“I was just really thinking, ‘Just make them,’ obviously,” she said. “But regardless, I trusted my teammates, make or miss, that we were going to get a defensive stop.”

Tarakchian took a three for the win and missed, but the Tigers retained possession as the ball went out with 1.3 to play. It was senior Michelle Miller’s turn to try to win the game from beyond the arc but Nwokedi would have none of it, swatting the shot and sealing the game.

It was a defensive win, and McLaughlin was proud of it.

“[Banghart] can say anything the way she wants," he said. "I’m really proud of our 2-3 zone. I thought that we play as hard as anyone, we compete.”

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