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Penn women's basketball played in paradise on Thursday, and the team's coaches were ready for the occasion as the Quakers coasted to a 73-41 win over BYU-Hawaii.

Credit: Riley Steele

LAIE — There was no trouble in paradise for Penn women’s basketball.

Traveling to Laie, Hawaii, to take on BYU-Hawaii in the first of two contests on in the Aloha State, the Quakers led from start to finish on Thursday, downing the Seasiders, 73-41.

Although both teams got off to a slow start offensively, the Red and Blue’s defense was absolutely stifling, holding BYU-Hawaii (4-5) to a paltry three points in the first quarter. The Seasiders finally showed some life offensively in the second frame, but Penn (8-2) roared to life on offense in its own right and went into the half with a sizable 39-17 lead.

From the opening tip, forward Michelle Nwokedi took charge, recording a double-double before the first half even came to a close, finishing the game with 19 points and a career-best 17 rebounds.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin was effusive about how the sophomore has been playing of late. “She just has a knack for the ball,” he noted. “She’s playing really well. She’s playing the best she’s played since she’s been at Penn.”

Junior Sydney Stipanovich joined her in double digits, scoring 14 points of her own. The last several games have hinged heavily on the scoring of the team’s frontcourt, and both forwards have reached double digits in six of the Quakers’ eight wins.

“Off the court we’re really good friends,” Nwokedi commented. “So we know what each other is thinking on the court and, with the help of our teammates, we’re able to work together really well.”

The bench continued to perform for the Red and Blue as well. Freshman Princess Aghayere had a strong showing on defense, grabbing 10 boards along with four steals while senior Brooklyn Juday and sophomore Beth Brzozowki logged four and three rebounds, respectively.

One of the most significant performances off the bench was that of freshman Ashley Russell, and not just for statistical reasons. The game marked the first time Russell has seen playing time in a Red and Blue uniform after being medically cleared on Dec. 22 following a torn ACL playing lacrosse her senior year of high school.

The Seasiders came out of the break unwilling to fold, and the Quakers’ lead held steadily where it had at the half. But they needed more than that to make this game competitive.

Even when the shots weren’t falling for Penn, it prevented BYU-Hawaii from taking advantage of it, grabbing 26 offensive rebounds, eight blocks and 18 steals.

The Red and Blue’s ability to maintain possession led to the squad firing off 79 shots from the field — a new high in the McLaughlin era as were the 18 steals ­— and allowed the Quakers to hold on to a 32-point lead despite shooting only 36.7 percent.

This was not the first trip for Penn to Oahu — it played Hawaii and Hawaii Pacific in 1985 — and the game against the Seasiders marked the first against a Division II opponent since Philadelphia University in 1987.

Despite the long trip, the Quakers were able to get a couple days of practice in once on the island and McLaughlin wasn’t worried about the need to continue adjusting to the time change.

“They had two really good workouts, so it didn’t surprise me that they were ready to play today,” he said. “They’re a very close knit group, they want to do it together, and they came out here tonight and really played well.”

The Red and Blue have another game to go while staying in Honolulu, battling Hawaii on Saturday. The Warriors defeated the Seasiders when they played in an exhibition earlier this year, 68-57, and also won the only matchup they’ve ever played against Penn, a 77-63 victory on the 1985 trip.

But there are still four days left for the Quakers in Hawaii, and Nwokedi noted that the team is making sure the trip is memorable more than just on the court.

“We are in Hawaii, and we came here for basketball. So obviously we were really focused on basketball, but we’re also going to try to have a good time.”

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