It's hard to imagine Kasey Chambers scripting it any better.
After sitting out the entirety of the 2014-15 season due to the NCAA's transfer rules, the junior from Belmar, N.J., stepped to the free throw line at Jadwin Gym with 19.4 seconds remaining and no small task on her plate: Seal the Ivy League championship for Penn women's basketball.
Leading 58-56 after a jump ball gave the Quakers possession late, Chambers swished two free throws to make it a two-score game. Following a jumper by Princeton's Michelle Miller 10 seconds later, the objective this time was no less nerve racking: Do it again.
And once again, nothing but net.
"She's probably shot those foul shots in the moment and in her head hundreds of times over her life," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "And now she gets a chance to do it on the big stage in the big game, it doesn't surprise me one bit that she made them."
There are myriad reasons the Red and Blue managed to clinch their second Ancient Eight crown in three seasons with a 62-60 win on Tuesday. And most of them are what one might have come to expect from McLaughlin's team over the past few years.
Although she struggled offensively and scored only four points on 2-for-12 shooting, junior Sydney Stipanovich recorded five enormous blocks against the Tigers, coming through for the Quakers defensively despite two crucial fouls early in the first half.
Meanwhile, sophomore Michelle Nwokedi — who may well be anointed Ivy League Player of the Year in the coming days — scored 17 points and anchored the backline of a press that disrupted Princeton's offense all game long. And Anna Ross led the way for Penn with 18 points, none bigger than her three-point play to reclaim the Quakers' lead for good with just under two minutes to play.
All three of those players have had multiple seasons to establish themselves as household names for the Red and Blue. Yet while some may be unfamiliar with the engine that drives Penn's offense, at this point, there is no denying it: The Quakers' championship in 2016 is as much a product of Chambers' efforts as anyone else's.
"I said back in 2014 when we won the championship that Sydney was the missing piece of that group," McLaughlin said. "Now, I think Kasey was the missing piece of this year's team.
"She allows our tempo to go a lot faster. She plays unbelievably hard all 40 minutes and she's a difference maker for us. You trust her because she competes so hard."
With the graduation of point guard Meghan McCullough following that 2014 championship season, Penn sorely lacked a steady hand in its backcourt last year, someone through whom the offense could run. As Ross and fellow sophomore Beth Brzozowski attempted to fill the void left by McCullough's departure as rookies, Chambers was forced to sit and wait.
But with Ross transitioning to the team's starting 2-guard and Brzozowski embracing her role as the first person off the bench, that allowed the Monmouth transfer to flourish as the Quakers' primary ballhandler in 2015-16. A year after seeing no game action, Chambers played more minutes than any other Penn player this season, scoring 7.9 points per game while constantly doling out assists and hitting clutch shots, just like her free throws on Tuesday.
"I have an enormous amount of pride right now," she said back at the Palestra as the Red and Blue prepared to cut down the nets in celebration. "Before every game, when the national anthem is playing, the one thing I think about every single time is how lucky I am to have Penn on the front of my jersey."
Given Chambers' 87 percent success rate from the foul line, it shouldn't be any surprise that the junior sunk those four shots late against Princeton. But her propensity for hitting incredibly difficult shots in recent days is another matter.
On Saturday, Chambers drilled a buzzer-beater from just inside halfcourt at the end of the third quarter to all but seal the Quakers' win over Harvard. Three days later, it was her off-balance shot-clock-beating fallaway jumper midway through the fourth quarter that left everyone at Jadwin stunned.
"Sometimes when you win a championship or an important game, special things like that have to go your way," McLaughlin commented.
"To come out of this with an Ivy League championship, that is just icing on the cake," Chambers added. "For us as a team and all that we've been through, it feels right. All the work we put in and how special this team is, it feels like what was supposed to happen."
After all, if Kasey Chambers had written a script, this is probably how she would have imagined the ending.Comments powered by Disqus
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