The calendar has turned to February, and it’s conference play the rest of the way for Penn women’s basketball. But that might not go quite as smoothly as the defending champs would hope, unless they bring their A-game.
The Quakers (10-6, 3-0 Ivy) will get a rude reintroduction to Ivy League competition this weekend when they host Harvard and Dartmouth.
Harvard (16-1, 4-0) enters the game as the hottest team in the Ivy League and one of the hottest in the nation, having won 16 straight since a season-opening loss to Minnesota.
While Friday’s contest will be a tough one for the hosts, the Big Green (6-11, 1-3) should prove to be a softer opponent on Saturday, although Dartmouth’s poor Ivy record would be a much more sightly 2-2 had the team come out on the right side of a quadruple-overtime thriller against Columbia.
Harvard poses a new threat in the Ivy League, as Penn and archrival Princeton have won each of the past seven conference championships between them. The last time a team other than the Quakers or Tigers won was in 2009, when Dartmouth pulled off the feat. But McLaughlin is aware that could change in a wide-open conference:
“I don’t think, when Harvard comes in here winning 16 in a row, [our players] are ignoring anyone. I think the league is really open, I think everybody knows that at this point. You’ve gotta give Harvard credit, they’ve won 16 in a row, they’ve won some close games, they can score the ball, but we’ll be ready for Friday night.”
The Quakers have a point to prove after dropping both of their past two games against Division I competition. While Penn rebounded from a pair of losses to Villanova and (and an 0-4 Big 5 campaign overall) by in Sunday’s 89-43 romp, the Red and Blue don’t exactly have as much momentum as they might like heading into the weekend despite a perfect Ivy record.
The way Harvard is playing, Friday’s clash could have large implications for the Ivy title race. Usually, the big game for Penn comes against Princeton, whom the Quakers always play during a one-game weekend. Preparing for Harvard while also having to gear up to face the Big Green the next day could pose a bit of a challenge, but the Quakers are not concerned with that aspect of what they see as just another traditional Ivy League doubleheader.
“I think what coach really does a good job of is each game we prepare the same way, one game is no bigger than the next,” senior captain Sydney Stipanovich said. “We’re going to prepare and get ready for Friday night, and then we’re going to take it one game at the time.”
And don’t make the mistake of thinking the Red and Blue will take Dartmouth lightly, even if they manage to shatter Harvard’s massive winning streak the night before. McLaughlin is taking the Big Green, and the rest of the Ancient Eight, quite seriously.
“I think they’re all a threat to be honest,” the coach said. “I don’t wanna give you the company line, but reality is, these teams are good, and when you see them come in here you’ll agree with me. On any given night you’ll see that anybody is going to [be able to] knock off somebody else.
“I just hope we’re not a part of that,” McLaughlin laughed.
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