NEW YORK — It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.
Penn women’s basketball struggled to get much going in the first half against Columbia on Friday. However, it took the Quakers just a couple of minutes to turn their four-point halftime lead into a double digit margin, starting the second half with an 11-0 run. Penn never looked back from there and soundly defeated the Lions 75-39.
As well as the Red and Blue played (16-6, 7-2 Ivy) against Columbia (7-17, 1-8) in the final two periods, they did not look great closing out the first half. Part of this is due to the fact that starting guards Anna Ross and Ashley Russell found themselves in early foul trouble.
Ross, in particular, was absent for a long stretch in the first half. After two quick fouls, the senior from Syracuse, New York was on the bench from the halfway point in the first quarter until about five minutes left in the second period.
Her absence did open up opportunities for other players to shine. Sophomore guard Phoebe Sterba, in particular, shot the lights out of the ball, going 4 for 7 from beyond the arc, while also notching six rebounds.
“We were really good about ball movement, which created a lot of open shots for people,” Sterba said. “Also just running plays that helped get each other open. We weren’t really playing selfishly today.”
As soon as the Quakers hit their stride, they left no doubt about the outcome, outscoring the Lions 47-15 in the second half of play.
“We changed our pressure in the full court a little bit [in the second half],” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We also wanted to spread [Columbia] out. I think sometimes we get a little stagnant...we opened up the baseline, and I think you saw a couple drives to the baseline, so I thought we did a good job of that.”
Another part of the winning formula for Penn going into the game was limiting the production of Columbia’s star senior Camille Zimmerman. They did this very well, holding Zimmerman, who averages 20.3 points on the year, to just 12 points on 3 for 16 shooting and forcing her to commit seven turnovers.
“We didn’t want her to catch the ball so easily down low; we tried to push her away,” said McLaughlin. “I thought we did a good job of crowding her and showing her different looks. I really thought it was about [senior forward] Michelle [Nwokedi], with Michelle being able to push her away from the basket and Michelle’s length.”
This certainly was not the first time that Nwokedi and Zimmerman have faced off against each other. The two have been the cream of the crop in the Ivy League for four years now, and Friday’s matchup most likely marked the final time that the two will play against one another. In fact, the two stars have worked out with each other in New York on several occasions, adding to the significance of their showdown tonight.
“I think they both bring out the best in each other,” said McLaughlin. “The eight times they’ve played have been really good. I think they’ll remember each other very fondly, especially with the competitive side of it.”
The Red and Blue ended getting nearly everyone involved, as 11 different players scored points. Russell matched Sterba’s game-high with 14 points of her own, also adding five rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
A strong team showing like this should be a big boost after the subpar performance that the Quakers displayed on Tuesday against Princeton. The group will look to finish the weekend on a high note with a win tomorrow at Cornell.
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