It's time to add another banner to the rafters of the Palestra.
One night after securing a share of the Ivy title, Penn women's basketball defeated Harvard 64-46 to take the title outright and secure the top seed in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. This is the first time in program history that the Quakers (19-7, 12-1 Ivy) captured back-to-back Ivy titles.
While this title does not mean as much this year as it has in previous years because of the tournament, it is still a remarkable achievement for the team, and one which they certainly sought to earn.
"It was relieving and exciting and crazy all in one," senior guard Kasey Chambers said of the last minute of the game. "It was just like counting down the seconds, and it seemed to take forever."
It was fitting that this game was the one to clinch the title for the Quakers, as it was a prototypical win for them. They jumped out to an early lead, buoyed by the usual key players. They kicked it up a notch right before the end of the half, when they went on a 12-2 run, to give themselves a sizable lead at the break. And they played shutdown defense in the fourth quarter, denying Harvard (20-7, 8-6) any chance to get back into the game.
"I was so impressed with them tonight, they just had an unbelievable will to win again tonight," coach Mike McLaughlin said. This is a culmination of a lot of hard work, and they wanted this one tonight by themselves. They wanted to be the sole champion in this league."
Penn's defense put in yet another stellar performance, limiting the Crimson to just 29% shooting from the field, including 19.2% from three-point range. The Red and Blue will certainly lean on their defense, the best unit in the Ivy League, to win the Ivy Tournament and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Junior forward Michelle Nwokedi led the Quakers and continued her exceptional streak of play, recording her sixth straight and team-leading 13th double-double. She tallied a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, and her fantastic play could not be coming at a better time for the Quakers.
Senior center Sydney Stipanovich and junior guard Anna Ross also had big days offensively, as they scored 10 and 13 points respectively. The two of them along with Nwokedi were instrumental in Penn's fast start.
The game followed an emotional Friday night, where in addition to clinching at least a tie of the title, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin became the all-time winningest coach in program history. On top of that, this weekend trip was the longest of the year for Penn. Still, the Quakers knew they had to perform at Harvard, and didn't let their guard down.
"I think it's really about our team chemistry," senior captain Jackie Falconer said. "Coming up on these trips it's really easy, they are really long trips, and it's easy to make them longer than they are. And I think the fact that we're all just so in this together and all really excited about where this team has come from and where we have to go, it just makes it really easy to get up for every game even on these long away ones."
For McLaughlin's squad, they have little time to revel in the title glory, as they are back on the court on Tuesday against Princeton in what could be a preview of the Ivy Tournament final. The Quakers will then have a few days off before the tournament, where they will face Brown (16-11, 7-7) on Saturday.
So, while Penn can smile about and celebrate their big accomplishment, their work is far from over.
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