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After struggling to find playing time her freshman year, sophomore guard Lauren Whitlatch has established herself as Penn women's basketball's primary threat from beyond the arc.

Credit: Nick Buchta , Will Snow

When Kathleen Roche graduated in 2015 — taking her 155 career three-pointers with her — Penn women’s basketball coach Mike McLaughlin had to figure out who could step in as the team’s threat from beyond the arc.

He found the answer in an unlikely source. After attempting just six three-pointers her entire freshman year, Lauren Whitlatch emerged as the Quakers’ new sharpshooter heading into her sophomore season.

Despite averaging just 3.9 minutes per game and 1.2 points during her rookie campaign, the newest addition to McLaughlin’s starting rotation made her presence felt early. In the 2015-16 season opener against Duke, Whitlatch launched 17 attempts from beyond the arc. She sank six of them. It was a sign of things to come.

“I think after last year, I saw that there was a spot open, and it needed to be filled,” she said. “It wasn’t gonna be given to me, and I understood that. It was going to require putting in lots of time in the offseason and getting myself mentally ready for a new role.

For the Bloomington, Ind., native, however, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing from three. In the game against the Blue Devils, she missed all seven first-half attempts — but McLaughlin kept her in and she kept shooting.

On the year, Whitlatch is now 53-for-156 beyond the perimeter — seven makes shy of Roche’s career high in 2014-15 and already tenth most in a season in program history.

And she has almost doubled the three-point attempts of sophomore guard Anna Ross, whose 85 shots from three are second on the team. Her 2.1 treys per contest rank fifth in the Ivy League and she averages the second-most threes per game in Ivy play.

“She knows it doesn’t matter when she makes shots — it’s helpful when she does — but she knows she’s not going to come out from missing shots,” McLaughlin said. “The only way she doesn’t play as much is if she stops competing and that just doesn’t happen with her.”

Taking over at the three-spot has involved a good deal of in-season adjustments as well. Only 28 of Whitlatch’s 184 shot attempts this year have come from inside the arc, and the sophomore has had to work to avoid becoming a one-trick pony.

Perhaps most significant about the Indianan has been her in-season growth. On Feb. 5 at Harvard, she led the team with a career-high 11 rebounds. The next night at Dartmouth, it was a team and season-high 19 points.

The following weekend against Columbia, Whitlatch scored 21. In part because of her newfound aggressiveness inside, the sophomore has been able to create shot opportunities she wasn’t getting in the first stretch of the season.

“If you look at the progress she has already made from the beginning of the year, she takes the ball and gets closed out on really hard, she’s being guarded really hard behind the arc,” McLaughlin noted. “She has probably five times over the last four games where she went by her defender and was able to get a shot around the rim.“

There is still room to grow. Although she has worked to assert herself inside, Whitlatch has made it to the free throw line just three times this season.

Cornell showed an ability to shut down the perimeter look, limiting Whitlatch to three points the night after she scored 20 against Columbia. She was held scoreless the second go-around against the Big Red.

“We will face adversity,” Whitlatch acknowledged. “We know that, and we understand that. But it’s just how are we going to react to them, for every action there’s a reaction, and our reaction to every breakdown, every missed shot — we need one another to get back to who we are and what we play for.”

But the price of paying the Red and Blue guard so much attention is opening things up for forwards Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi in the post. There seems to be no way to win.

“She understood we needed someone to spread the floor for our post players and she is not afraid of anything,” McLaughlin said. “We give her the green light when she is open. That’s her role and she has accepted that role.”

With the star power of Stipanovich and Nwokedi, most opponents are content to let Whitlatch run free. They do so at their own risk.

For the Quakers, a date with Princeton looms just beyond weekend matchups with Dartmouth and Harvard. In a game bound to be similarly low-scoring as the 50-48 win for the Red and Blue in January, a few deep shots here and there may well be the difference.

And those shots are more likely than not going to come from someone the average fan would have never expected just one year ago.

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