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Junior guard Lauren Whitlatch's career-high 24 points helped propel Penn women's basketball past Rhode Island, 75-43, on Friday.

Credit: Ananya Chandra , Ananya Chandra

In a season the team has dedicated to the Harambe, the Quakers couldn’t have waited much longer to get the monkey off their backs.

Penn women’s basketball notched its first win of the season in its first-ever meeting with Rhode Island, coasting to a 75-43 victory on Friday night in the nation’s smallest state.

The Quakers (1-2) led wire-to-wire against the Rams (1-3) en route to the win. After a rocky start to the season with a tough loss against formidable Duke and a defeat at the hands of Binghamton that left the entire team feeling bitter, the Red and Blue needed a convincing win and got it, dominating their opponents in every facet of the game to enter the win column.

“I think it was really important that we played really well, we grew a lot from Wednesday when we didn’t play well, execute well, do a whole lot well,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Tonight, we were the aggressor, we rebounded the ball at a high level, took care of the basketball, scored the ball efficiently, controlled the paint — it was a really good team win, it’s good to get the first one. And we worked hard to get it.”

After struggling a bit on both ends the first two games, Penn broke out the lockdown defense that won the Quakers an Ivy championship a year ago, holding Rhode Island under 35 percent shooting and forcing 22 turnovers. The offense, while not necessarily efficient, was certainly prolific, with Penn breaking the 70-point barrier and hitting nine three-pointers.

Six of those threes came from junior guard Lauren Whitlatch, who had a career-high 24 points. But after a breakout game offensively, Whitlatch was more focused on the team’s defense, to which she contributed with three steals.

“We can’t always control if the shots will keep going in or not, but it’s more about on the defensive end, getting those 50-50 balls back,” she said. “Our defense is always our first priority.”

Penn also got strong performances down low from senior captain and center Sydney Stipanovich, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, as well as junior forward Michelle Nwokedi, who had 16 points, eight boards and three rejections.

Stipanovich, the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, credited Whitlatch’s shooting from outside for her own dominance inside.

“She was huge tonight, she couldn’t miss,” Stipanovich said of the junior guard. “That really spreads the floor and makes the defense have to come out and guard her, it really makes our offense a whole lot better.”

Rhode Island hung with the Quakers early in the game despite never leading, and Penn took a relatively modest 11-point lead into the halftime break. But the Red and Blue opened things up after the intermission, capping things off with a fourth quarter in which the Rams managed only six point against the Penn defense. Rhode Island was led by sophomore center Dina Motrechuk, who had 17 points and four blocks.

For the Red and Blue, the thrill of a dominant victory came mixed with a sense of relief.

“I think we all had a lot of energy, and the past few days really just wanted to get back on the court and improve ourselves,” Whitlatch said. “I think we all contributed in a way that really helped us get that win.”

And with that first win finally out of the way, the Quakers can go back to using their high expectations as a source of confidence, rather than a burden.

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