Penn women’s basketball just made a statement.
The Quakers (15-5, 6-1) had been rolling coming into this game, reeling off five straight conference wins, including a 65-47 drubbing of Dartmouth, but the latest, by a score of 69-49 over Harvard (13-8, 5-3 Ivy), is more than just another solid conference victory. It proves that this team has the talent for a run in March.
No one is more deserving of credit for this win and the team’s success than senior forward Michelle Nwokedi, who was unstoppable on both sides of the ball and seemingly at every position during Saturday’s matchup against the Crimson.
“We’ve been playing great basketball as a team, and any given day it’s anyone’s time and so for us, it just happened to be my day and so, credit to my teammates, credit to the coaching staff,” Nwokedi said. “We came out here ready to play.”
Nwokedi outscored Harvard in the first half, putting up 27 points of her own to only 21 from the visiting opponents. She also proved she was more than just a dominant low-post player, shooting 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc on eight total attempts. She didn’t get a double-double – in fact, no one on Penn did – because the team shot such a high percent that there weren’t enough chances to pull down rebounds.
“My mentality this whole season has been the same: come out, play, and see what they do, see how they play me, see how I can get my teammates involved,” Nwokedi said. “It just happened to be that they were giving me that three and I’ve been working so hard with coach Killion and all the coaches on that three, so it was just a day when it was going in and I just kept shooting it.”
Turnovers were also crucial to Penn’s cruise to victory. Penn turned the ball over only 15 times, with most coming late in the game once the win was assured, while Harvard had 22 turnovers. This accounted for 26 points off turnovers for the Quakers, compared to only 9 from Harvard.
This weekend’s games demonstrated that Penn is very difficult to beat when one of its weapons can get going. The team has so many weapons though that it would be a pretty rare occasion that no one is able to get the offense rolling.
“We moved the ball well, we got open shots – that’s the best I’ve seen us score the ball this year,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I thought defensively we were really good, getting them unsettled ... We worked really hard on [Harvard guard] Benzan, she’s so good, and she's got a quick release – Anna did a terrific job with her. We really wanted to try to not allow them to get their feet set behind the arc; for the most part we did a really good job.”
In Friday’s game against Dartmouth (12-9, 4-4), junior guard Ashley Russell started heating up early in the game, and ended up shooting 60 percent on the night, with a mark of 40 percent from beyond the arc, notching her a team-high 14 points. Her dominance, especially in the first half of the game, helped to spread the floor on offense, and in the second half freshman center Eleah Parker was able to get into a rhythm down low.
It seemed like the Big Green knew they’d have to prevent the Penn frontcourt from finding their groove, but the Quakers passed and communicated well on offense, spreading the floor and playing selflessly. Perimeter defense was also key in shutting down Dartmouth’s guards, who typically shot the three with very high accuracy.
“We knew this weekend was a huge weekend for us guarding the three point line, and we kind of just made a point for our guards to guard the arc hard, close out really hard” Russell said.
From Russell’s sharpshooting, to Parker’s rebounding, to Ross’s passing and defense, to Nwokedi’s all-around dominance, the Quakers have an incredible array of talents who can take turns beating up on their opponents. Not to mention the fact that Penn’s deep and talented bench provides lockdown defense and solid shooting no matter who is on the floor.
Although this win technically counts just as much as all the others, it’s a statement from this team that they are back. Princeton, who the Quakers lost to in the conference opener and will face again on Tuesday, will serve as the next test for this team on their path to a championship repeat.
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