Sometimes, the numbers don't tell everything.
With a little more than a month gone in the season, Penn women's basketball currently sits at 3-4. The small number of games played by the Red and Blue has led to a small sample size of stats and observations, but there are several overarching trends from the team as it approaches Ivy play.
As has been since coach Mike McLaughlin took control of the program eight years ago, defense is the hallmark of this team. Despite a middle-of-the-pack 61.4 points against per game, the Quakers have hit their defensive stride in the previous few games. Penn held No. 3 Notre Dame, one of the top offenses in the nation, to a season-low 66 points, then captured its first Big 5 win in nearly two years by holding Saint Joseph's to just 50 points.
Much of that recent success has been due to the growing chemistry between senior forward Michelle Nwokedi and freshman center Eleah Parker. The two stand form an imposing force on the inside, and it showed itself against Saint Joseph's: the duo combined for 12 rebounds, six blocks, and six steals.
Consistency has been an issue for the Red and Blue, not necessarily in between games but even from quarter to quarter. Against both Binghamton and La Salle, the Quakers jumped out to substantial early leads, but were unable to keep the pressure on in the second quarter and beyond.
For the season, Penn has outscored opponents by 13 points in the first quarter, but has been outscored by 14 in the second quarter. That lack of continuity between quarters has led to losses, even though the Quakers were the better team on the floor for the majority of games.
"There are things that happen in a basketball game ... how are we going to maintain our composure? How are we going to just look to the next play?" McLaughlin said. "I see progress, but I’m still seeing runs that are a little bit large at times, and we just need to find a way to get through them."
One of the biggest trends early this season has been the continued success of senior Anna Ross at point guard. Last year, Ross shared much of the ball handling responsibilities with then-senior Kasey Chambers, but with Chambers' graduation, Ross has been thrust into the role of the primary facilitator.
Ross has thrived in that role this season, averaging 4.9 assists and 8.1 points per game. But her impact goes beyond the stats. She's become the engine behind the team's offense, and any success the Quakers have will undoubtedly run through her.
"She’s doing a lot of things that don’t show up on the statistics and that’s pretty much Anna’s career," McLaughlin said. "She’s a winner, she does little things that make the team really good, and we trust her."
Finally, the growth of Parker and fellow freshman Katie Kinum has provided the Red and Blue several additional scoring options. Parker is third on the team with 8.9 points per game, while Kinum is averaging 5.4 points per game, leading all bench players. The offensive emergence of the two freshman will certainly be beneficial in Ivy play, as teams will now have to be wary of the offensive potency of even more players.
So while the Red and Blue might continue to experience some growing pains, make no mistake — the team that's won three of the past four Ivy League titles has major room for improvement, and if it hits that potential, the rest of the Ancient Eight has much to worry about.
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