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Senior guard Kasey Chambers, after a 16-point performance against Harvard last Friday, will be key if Penn women's basketball can come out on top against second-place Cornell on Saturday.

Credit: Will Snow , Will Snow

As they look to stay atop the Ivy League, the Quakers are sticking with what got them there.

Penn (16-3, 5-0 Ivy) will host Columbia (12-9, 1-5) on Friday night before welcoming Cornell (13-7, 5-1) to the Palestra on Saturday.

The first-place Quakers will be taking on both their closest and most distant competition in the second-place Big Red and the last-place Lions. When Penn met these squads last year, it split its two games with Cornell while sweeping Columbia.

Usually, teams spend most of the week preparing for their Friday opponents, and worry about their Saturday foes on the day of the second game. This weekend, the second game likely represents a bigger challenge and is certainly — with Cornell only a half-game behind the Quakers in the standings — a much more important contest in the race for the Ivy title. So will Penn coach Mike McLaughlin prepare for this doubleheader differently?

“No, not even a little bit,” McLaughlin said. “We are doing what we’ve done. We’re going to try to be consistent through this back-to-back six-week process we’re in, and we’re going to do Saturday on Saturday, regardless of who [the opponent] is. That’s been our plan and we stick to it.

“I think the players really like that approach,” the coach continued. “I know it’s a huge game Saturday, but you can’t get to Saturday healthy without Friday, and they know that. I think they feel comfortable that if they compete, they can beat anybody in our league, but they know that they can get beat if they’re not prepared and not ready to play.”

“There’s still always a basketball game that comes on Friday night first,” senior captain Kasey Chambers added. “Columbia cannot be overlooked. We have to take care of business Friday before we can even think about Saturday. When Saturday morning comes around I think that’s when we’ll start preparing for Cornell. Cornell’s a great team, but so is Columbia.”

The Lions went 11-4 in non-conference play, so they’re certainly no pushover, even if they’re likely out of the hunt for the Ancient Eight title.

“They can shoot the three, so we’ll have to guard the arc,” McLaughlin noted, possibly with Penn’s most recent loss in the back of his mind — Villanova hit 17 threes against the Quakers on Jan. 26.

Against Cornell, Penn will look to preserve and solidify its lead in the Ivy League standings.

“It’s gonna be a battle,” McLaughlin said. “They beat us at home last year, they’re a team very capable of winning the Ivy League.”

The Quakers are hoping the only similarity in this year’s rematch will be the presence of 2015 graduates Kathleen Roche, Renee Busch and Katy Allen in the Palestra. The three members of the winningest class in program history (the fourth, Kara Bonenberger, is playing professionally in England) won’t be helping out on the court, but they’ll be in the building for Alumni Night on Saturday.

“It’s great getting to see people who you know, who you haven’t been able to see in awhile,” said senior guard Kasey Chambers, who practiced with the team last year despite being unable to play in games due to transfer rules. “And then you get to meet people who come back [from older classes] that you’ve never met before, which is always such a great opportunity.”

The night before, Penn will host its annual “Think Pink” event to raise Breast Cancer Awareness.

“It’s so important, not only for college basketball, but for the whole country,” Chambers said. “And I think a bunch of kids are coming in on Friday night, which is always awesome.”

“It’s gonna be a good weekend,” McLaughlin said. “And a really important one for us.”

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