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Despite some growing pains early on, Penn women's basketball has displayed the potential to secure coach Mike McLaughlin's fourth Ivy title in the last five years.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Three games in just under four weeks. That’s a lot of downtime.

After playing seven games in just about as much time this past month, Penn women’s basketball will look rebound from a tough early schedule over winter break and come out with its heads held high.

Currently riding high after a close 57-50 win over crosstown rival Saint Joseph’s for their first Big 5 win in nearly two years, the Red and Blue will aim to capitalize on this momentum and not only carry it into the break, but keep it going until they return to action.

On the docket for the Quakers (3-4) over the next few weeks is a home game against Rhode Island (2-8) on Dec. 22 followed by a trip to Newark, N.J. for the New Jersey Institution of Technology Highlanders Christmas Tournament on Dec. 28-29. 

The Rams do not appear to be a difficult opponent. They currently have an 0-6 record away from home and are averaging just 52 points per game compared to their opponents’ average of 66.

Four of the five Rhode Island starters are underclassmen, including three freshmen, as well as leading scorer Nicole Jorgensen. While the Quakers should not be too complacent when they face their much younger opponent, they will no doubt be favored under the lights of the Palestra.

The Red and Blue will also be the favorite heading into the NJIT tournament, as they will be the only team present that currently has more than two wins. Penn knows its opponent for the opening night game will be Virginia Commonwealth (1-7), who have lost six of their eight games by double digits and whose only win came over 1-8 Old Dominion. 

The Rams are led by the duo of Tera Reed and Jailyn Maddox, both averaging over ten points per game, so a key to victory for the Quakers will be to shut down this pair before they get hot from the floor.

For the second game of the tournament, on Friday night, Penn’s opponent will depend on whether they win or lose their first game. If they are victorious against VCU, they will face the winner of Long Beach State (2-7) and the host NJIT (1-10), but if they are defeated, they will face whichever team lost.

Again, both teams are not very strong on paper, combining for just three wins, but games are not always won on paper.

Curiously, Long Beach State has suffered losses to mid-major teams as Montana State and Oral Roberts, but picked up an away win in upset fashion over Pac-12 member Arizona.

Both teams also won their last game, Long Beach in a nail-biter over Grand Canyon, 65-63, and NJIT in a blowout against St. Joseph’s of Brooklyn, 106-42.

NJIT has struggled offensively and defensively all season, only putting up more than 60 points twice while allowing more than 60 in all but three of their games thus far.

Of all the teams they will or may play this break, Penn is the only team to have wins in all of the home, away, and neutral columns. They have the experience and talent to go from 3-4 to 6-4 before they open up conference play against Princeton on Jan. 6, helping to continue their Ivy title defense.

These games will test if the Quakers have what it takes to win over beatable opponents before they play the games that will really count after the break.

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