Entering Saturday night’s women’s basketball showdown between Penn and Yale, the two foes were headed in sharply opposite directions.
The Quakers had won seven straight games en route to a first-place spot in the Ivy League, with the Elis mirroring the Red and Blue by losing eight consecutive matchups to fall to sixth.
After tonight’s matchup, both teams will be sticking to the status quo.
Behind a career-best 25 points from senior guard Kasey Chambers and a first-half team offensive performance for the record books, the Red and Blue cruised to its ninth straight Ancient Eight victory, topping the Bulldogs, 77-59, to remain atop the conference and clinch the program’s third straight 20-win season.
“It was a really awesome performance on both ends of the ball, really terrific. Our energy was great, we hit shots and got penetration,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “The passion was really there tonight.”
Entering the contest as the lone team unbeaten in Ancient Eight play, the Quakers (20-3, 9-0 Ivy) showed no mercy on the hosts, relying a strong effort from beyond the arc to jump out to a quick 8-0 lead. Stifled by Penn’s 2-3 zone defense — which was ranked 9th in the nation entering the contest by allowing a measly 51.6 points per game — the Bulldogs didn’t score for the first 2:37 of the game, finally breaking onto the scoreboard on a mid-range jumper from Nyasha Sarju.
Briefly, Yale (11-18, 2-8) began to show signs of life, as three three-pointers from 5-foot-8 junior guard Lena Munzer — who hadn’t made a start all season until Saturday and was only averaging 3.3 points per game before the contest — helped the Elis cut the deficit to 15-11, but the shooting and slashing of a pair of Penn guards would soon return Penn’s comfort.
Chambers matched Munzer with three downtown jumpers of her own in the first four minutes, as Penn increased its lead back to 21-13 before the first media timeout — with the two teams remarkably combining to score 34 points in the first 3:37 of the contest.
Soon afterwards, sophomore guard Beth Brzozowski came off the bench and provided a massive spark for the Quakers, single-handedly scoring seven points in the final 80 seconds of the opening quarter to put Penn put 31-18 after ten minutes. Led by Chambers, the Quakers shot an astonishing 6-for-7 from beyond the arc in the frame, giving the squad its most points in a quarter since women’s basketball instituted a four-quarter structure at the start of the 2015-16 season.
“The players did a great job knocking down shots, really doing as good of a job hitting threes as we’ve done all year,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously Kasey Chambers had a huge first half making shots, and then Lauren Whitlatch was also a big performer tonight, so it was just a great team effort.”
The fun was by no means over for the Red and Blue at that point, as the squad continued to nail the hammer on the Bulldogs early in the second frame. Brzozowski and Chambers continued to dominate offensively — combining to outscore the entire Yale squad over the opening 20 minutes — and Penn’s defense proved worthy of its national reputation, besting its first-quarter performance by holding Yale scoreless for the first 5:14 of the second frame and frustrating Bulldogs’ leading scorer Sarju to two points, five below her previous season-low.
Spanning the first and second quarters, the Red and Blue went on a 25-7 run to burst out to a 40-18 lead, before more strong shooting from Chambers and Whitlatch boosted Penn to a staggering 54-26 halftime lead.
Chambers finished the first half shooting a perfect five-for-five from beyond the arc, leading the team to 10-for-13 three-point shooting and 20-for-28 field goal shooting efforts in the first half, as Penn’s 54 points tied a December 1999 win over Loyola-Chicago for the highest scoring output in one half in school history.
“We wanted to be aggressive — I wanted our guards to attack off the dribble and get penetration, put pressure on Yale,” McLaughlin said, referring to a Bulldogs team that opened the evening in its own 2-3 zone scheme before quickly scrapping it due to the Quakers’ dominance from outside. “We did a terrific job of moving the ball and getting it into someone else’s hands — always got the ball to an open player, and we were able to jump ahead quickly.”
Coming out of the break, Penn got on Yale early for the third consecutive frame, opening with a 6-0 run to stretch the lead to an imposing 34 points before finally beginning to cool off.
As Penn didn’t make a three-point field goal for the entirety of the third quarter and Yale forward Katie Werner began to establish herself on the offensive glass — finishing with six offensive boards on the night — Yale was able to cut into the lead marginally, but Penn still held a commanding 67-38 advantage entering the final frame.
The unexpected offensive performances from Munzer, who finished with a career-best 20 points, and Werner (14 points, nine rebounds) continued in the fourth quarter, but the Elis never realistically threatened, as the deficit stayed above 20 points until the game’s final minutes.
After four players reached double figures — with Michelle Nwokedi’s ten points joining Chambers, Brzozowski (15 points) and Whitlatch (13) — Penn finally removed its starters with roughly three minutes remaining, cruising to the 18-point win and keeping the dreams of a perfect season alive.
“Both [Werner and Munzer] did a really good job; the key opened up a little bit for them to push the ball hard and try to get back into it,” McLaughlin said, referencing foul trouble to Nwokedi that kept her out for intermittent portions of the second half. “They were scoring in transition and making some shots from the outside, but we kept it in control.”
Next up, Penn will head to the Empire State, taking on fifth-place Cornell (13-11, 5-5) on Friday before heading to last-place Columbia (12-13, 1-9) for a rare Sunday matchup televised by the American Sports Network.
The Red and Blue cruised to comfortable victories against both foes earlier this season, topping the Lions 71-51 and Cornell 65-50 at the Palestra, but with the Quakers remaining a meager game ahead of Princeton (19-4, 8-1) in the conference standings, they know no one can be taken lightly.
“I talk to the girls all the time; it’s great to be where we’re at right now, but I talk about it being a process – we have a lot to get done and we have to embrace that challenge,” McLaughlin said. “We don’t talk about the end goal – we talk about getting better day by day and capturing the moment.
“It’s fun, it’s why they play, they have a dream to get that [undefeated season] done and I don’t want them to back down on that,” he concluded. “If we keep playing hard like we have, they can continue this journey that they’re on, and I want them to appreciate it.”Comments powered by Disqus
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