Both Penn men’s basketball and women’s basketball saw their seasons end in agonizing fashions last March, but neither of those final games should take away from thrilling 2017s for both teams.
The year got off to an absolutely blazing start for the Penn women. Penn won its first four games of the 2017 calendar year, which included a thrilling comeback victory on the road against Princeton that featured then-junior guard Beth Brzozowski scoring all nine of her points in the final seven minutes of crunch-time.
As it would turn out, that hot start to the new year was only a taste of the dominance the Red and Blue would achieve in the coming months.
After falling in consecutive games to Big 5 rivals Villanova and Temple, Penn proceeded to absolutely tear through the rest of its competition. From the end of January through the end of the Ivy League Tournament, the Quakers lost only once in fourteen games.
All of the winning culminated in a dominant effort in the inaugural Ivy Tournament that saw the Red and Blue finish their Ivy season the same way they started it: by beating Princeton — just five days after Penn had beaten Princeton for the second time in 2017.
In the Ivy Championship against the Tigers that clinched Penn’s second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, then-junior forward Michelle Nwokedi showed exactly why she had been honored as the Ivy League Player of the Year.
After scoring 25 points in the Quakers’ semifinal match-up with Brown, Nwokedi led Penn once again with 15 points against Princeton. Her efforts were enough to earn her Ivy League Tournament MVP, as she was joined on the All-Tournament team by fellow junior Anna Ross.
The final victory over Princeton also served as a fitting Palestra send-off for then-senior and 2015-2016 Ivy League Player of the Year Sydney Stipanovich. Stipanovich finished her career with the Red and Blue as the Ivy League’s all-time leader in blocks, but her contributions to Penn went much deeper than just the box score.
In the NCAA Tournament, Penn was just minutes away from earning the team’s first-ever win in March Madness when it led Texas A&M by 21 points in the game’s final quarter. But in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be as the Aggies rattled off a 25-1 run to stun the Quakers and avoid the colossal upset.
It was a crushing end to an otherwise historic season, but through the early stages of the 2017-2018 season, the Red and Blue have already shown glimpses of what could be an even better year for Penn women’s basketball in 2018.
Penn currently stands at just 3-4, but the Quakers have already pulled off an epic comeback of their own to defeat Missouri State in the Bahamas. More recently, the team more than held its own against No. 3 Notre Dame. The Red and Blue ultimately fell, but not before holding the Irish to its lowest scoring total of the season.
For the Red and Blue men, 2017 couldn’t have gotten off to a rougher start. After losing to Princeton narrowly on the road to start off the new year, things only got worse for the Quakers as they lost their first six games of the Ivy season.
Had it not been for a nail-biting win over La Salle that saw then-freshman AJ Brodeur explode for 35 points, Penn would have been the loser in every single one of its games in January.
After Penn fell to Princeton again it its sixth straight Ivy loss, some even declared that the Quakers’ chances of making the first-ever Ivy League Tournament — hosted in Penn’s own Palestra — were all but dead.
But instead of giving in, the Red and Blue zombies revived their season in stunning fashion as they rattled off five straight Ivy victories to put themselves right back into tournament contention.
But the drama was just getting started.
After choking in two straight games against Columbia and Dartmouth, Penn found itself facing a do-or-die situation to finish the regular season against Ivy power Harvard at home. Led by then-senior and captain Matt Howard’s 24 points, the Quakers found themselves locked up at 72 with just seconds left.
Instead of going to Howard, Penn found itself the unlikeliest of heroes: then-sophomore guard Jackson Donahue. With one sweet stroke from distance, Donahue saved Penn’s season and provided one of the most memorable Palestra finishes in recent memory.
In the Ivy Tournament, Penn found itself matched up with the same Princeton team that had already been the Quakers twice in the season. Instead of being intimidated by the Tigers’ undefeated record in Ivy play, Penn rallied in front of an electric crowd to play one of it’s best games of the season.
The Red and Blue did not trail for a second of regulation, but Princeton tied the game on a tip-in with just seconds left. In overtime, the Tigers proved to be too much, ending the Quakers’ miracle season in heartbreak.
As agonizing as the final loss was, fans knew the Quakers would be well-positioned for another strong season behind the strength of its then-freshmen and current sophomores Brodeur and Ryan Betley.
After 12 games of this new season, it seems safe to say that Penn is primed for another Ivy Tournament run. The Red and Blue fell in their first two games of the year, but have since won eight of ten games in their best start to a season since Penn went undefeated in Ivy play in the 2002-03 season.
What makes the start to the season even more impressive is that so much of Penn’s success has come on the road. The Quakers have played their last eight games away from the Palestra on a road swing that has seen Penn lose to the No. 4 team in the country, win a thrilling quadruple-overtime game over Monmouth, and pull off an improbable upset over mid-major powerhouse Dayton.
In all, it’s been a year of mostly highs, but a few stinging lows for Penn men’s and women’s basketball.
At the moment, however, things appear to be looking up for both teams to have an even better 2018.
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