That is what Big 5 basketball is all about.
In a thriller, senior guard Anna Ross dictated exactly how the script would end: with the ball in her hands. It was her last-second bucket that proved the difference as Penn eked past Villanova 79-77.
The Quakers (9-5, 2-1 Big 5) have a chance at a sharing a Big 5 title with the Wildcats (14-4, 2-2) dependent on the result of their upcoming matchup against Temple.
The Red and Blue haven’t beaten Villanova since 2001, so when 'Nova took the lead early, it seemed to be a new page from that same book. A Penn 7-0 run ended any question of that — the Quakers never trailed after that point. To tell the truth, while it might have seemed like an upset on paper, against the eye test, it was anything but.
The lifeblood of this Villanova team has been their three-point shooting. The Wildcats average over eight treys per game, more than double the amount they allow. While they made 12 threes against Penn, it was the misses that stood out to coach Harry Perretta.
“We missed a lot of shots,” Perretta said. “If we don’t make threes, we don’t have a chance.”
From the opposite bench, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin disagreed.
“They did a nice job. They spread you wide. They cause you a lot of problems [defensively] I think you could see we got beat a couple times with layups, but you have to give something up against them,” he said.
The Penn forwards, senior Michelle Nwokedi and freshman Eleah Parker led the way for the Quakers once again. The Red and Blue finished with a whopping 40 points in the paint, an especially large sum when compared to Villanova’s 18.
Individually, Parker lit up the stat sheet once again, setting another career high with 25 points and coming a rebound short of a third consecutive double-double. Nwokedi likewise had one of her more productive statistical games of the season, scoring 17 points, including two three pointers.
The consistent domination in the frontcourt helped Penn build its six-point halftime lead. That lead fluctuated throughout the evening — sometimes up to seven or eight, sometimes down to two — but the Quakers were in control most of the way. When ‘Nova hit some big threes down the stretch — including one to tie the game at 77 with five seconds left, Penn wasn’t fazed.
“I think it just kind of added intensity and kind of put a fire in us to make sure that we kept throwing punches and keep fighting strong,” Parker said.
“They hit some huge shots and some of the shots that they hit – hats off to them, they made some great shots,” McLaughlin said. “I’m proud of the way we responded though, that’s the mark of really good players and a championship type program – you respond.”
All that drama led to one final play: Penn ball, tie game, five second left. Both teams called timeouts to plan. From there, Ross took control.
“They called a timeout – we didn’t change our play – but they changed their defense and right then I knew: I’ve got the ball. I’m getting the ball, I’m going to go. I knew right when they walked out,” she said.
“You could see the level of intensity,” McLauglin said. “That’s what’s great about the Big 5. This is not just a non-conference game no one knows about, this is really important for a lot of people.”