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As sophomore guard Lauren Whitlatch has become an offensive force for Penn women's basketball, teams have been forced to pay her more attention outside – often at the expense of defending the post.

Credit: Ananya Chandra , Ananya Chandra

The rest of the Ivy League is running out of chances to stop Penn women’s basketball.

Nine games into the 14-game Ivy season, the Quakers (20-3, 9-0 Ivy) remain perfect — and only Princeton has even kept the game to single digits with a 50-48 decision on Jan. 9. In the coming edition of Ivy Weekend basketball, Cornell and Columbia are next up to challenge the league leaders.

As the other seven members of the Ancient Eight deal ready for their second bouts with the Red and Blue, the search for answers to coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad remain elusive. A large portion of that fact stems from the way the Quakers’ boss runs his practices.

“We always talk about in the scout, what we’re going to do against certain things to counter, you know, if this isn’t effective, we’ll go to this,” McLaughlin said. “We practice ahead of time if we need to change. So hopefully that helps them get acclimated to it quicker in live play.”

The biggest change the Red and Blue have seen from game to game revolves around sophomore guard Lauren Whitlatch. McLaughlin noted that teams tend to be responsive to the Bloomington, Ind., native’s performances, focusing on her play outside the arc — often at the expense of manpower in the post.

Perhaps this was most clear just two weekends ago, when Penn hosted the Lions (12-13, 1-9) and Big Red (13-11, 5-5). Friday night, as the Quakers coasted to a 71-51 win over Columbia, Whitlatch posted a career-high 20 points on 5-for-8 shooting from three. The next evening, Cornell was able to make it closer as the Red and Blue emerged victorious, 65-50, as they made a conscious effort to go after the sophomore guard.

But even as Whitlatch was limited to three points on two shots, forwards Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi logged 21 and 12 points, respectively.

Therein lies the root problem the Quakers’ opponents face: They can lock down the threats in the post and let Whitlatch launch threes. Or they can open things up down low to slow the free-wheeling shooting of the team’s leading shooter from outside the arc, letting Stipanovich and Nwokedi take over the game.

In the second go-around for each of these teams, it remains to be seen if there’s an answer to the inside-outside dilemma.

“It’s always harder to play teams for the second time, and I think our gameplan going into it, because we’ve already played them,” Whitlatch said. “They already know us, our gameplan is just to clean everything up and make sure that we execute really well.”

If one thing could knock the Red and Blue off their game, it’s the weekend’s unusual setup. Instead of the normal Friday-Saturday slate, Penn will have to wait until Sunday to pay the Lions a visit, a change necessitated by the national television audience the American Sports Network plans to provide.

Although the Friday-Sunday weekend could potentially mess with the Quakers’ groove, the players are unconcerned.

“We have to treat it like every other weekend,” Whitlatch said. “It doesn’t matter where or when we play as long as we play our game, so we’re ready.”

For the Quakers, a potential title is on the horizon, and this weekend could bring them that much closer. Last year, Cornell proved the only Ancient Eight opponent capable of felling the then-defending Ivy champs other than Princeton, and they may yet do it again.

There are five stops left on the road to a perfect Ivy slate. Next up: Ithaca.

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