13 wins, one loss, an Ivy League championship, Coach of the Year, three All-Ivy honors and Player of the Year sum up Penn women’s basketball’s season to date.
But none of that matters now — it’s tournament time.
The No. 1 seeded Penn Quakers (20-7, 13-1 Ivy) will fight this weekend for a bid to the NCAA Tournament at the Ivy League’s inaugural postseason tournament. Only the top four teams made it this far, and according to Penn coach Mike McLaughlin, anyone can win it.
But the reigning back-to-back Ivy League champions will be the favorites in the first round, given the top seed and the home-court advantage, with the tournament being held at the Palestra on campus.
The Quakers’ first opponent will be Brown. Though the Bears (16-11, 7-7) are the No. 4 seed, they are the only other team besides Penn coming into the tournament on a win streak, having taken their last two to win-in.
On top of Brown’s recent form, the two teams’ last meeting should keep Penn on its toes. The champions only just eked out a victory in what might have been the game of the season.
Penn led only for just a few minutes of its trip to Providence, which finished 71-68 to the visitors. The game was only decided in the final two minutes, when the Quakers were finally able to match the Bears’ free scoring.
“They’re terrific, they really are,” McLaughlin said. “They score the ball about as well as any team I’ve seen in the Ivy League the last few years.”
The old saying that defense wins championships may never have mattered more to a team than Penn this year. Allowing just 45 points per game in their last five of the regular season, its defense is one of the best in all of the NCAA. Containing Brown’s high scoring will be crucial to finding victory on Saturday.
As the players have all season, they’ll look to the newly-crowned Ivy League Player of the Year, junior forward Michelle Nwokedi, to lock things down in the paint.
Nwokedi has been the best player in the league, but also by far on the team this season. The forward leads Penn in points (398), rebounds (251) and blocks (75), having also started in all 27 of the team’s games.
If the Quakers should beat the Bears, they’d need only one more victory on Sunday to find themselves in the madness of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.
That matchup would come against either Princeton or Harvard — teams they both beat twice in the regular season. But in a one-game playoff for an NCAA bid, there’s no telling what the Quakers’ two fiercest rivals might do.
For now, though, they must beat Brown in order to face the next opponent. All eyes will be on the Palestra Saturday morning to see if they’re up the challenge.
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