It’s only mid-February, but the implications of Penn women’s basketball game at Princeton on Tuesday could be felt well into March.
Both Penn (15-5, 6-1 Ivy) and Princeton (16-4, 6-1) have dropped just one Ivy contest, but at the moment, the Tigers seem to be in the driver’s seat thanks to their road win over the Quakers in early January.
In that game, the Red and Blue’s shooters struggled to ever get it going and senior forward Michelle Nwokedi was outplayed by Princeton’s starting frontcourt of Bella Alarie and Leslie Robinson.
The good news for Penn is that neither of those factors were issues in the team’s dominant win over Harvard (13-8, 5-3) on Saturday.
Against the Crimson, the Quakers shot 12 for 28 from behind the arc and Nwokedi turned in possibly the best performance in a half of her career.
In just the first half, the 2017 Ivy League Player of the Year scored 27 points to single-handedly outscore Harvard’s 21 points. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Nwokedi had notched a career-high 30 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.
A performance like that would go a long way in Penn’s mission to exact revenge against its rivals on Tuesday, but after the Harvard game, Nwokedi made it clear that she hasn’t been approaching games any differently.
“My mentality this whole season has been the same,” Nwokedi said. “Come out, play, and see what they do. See how they play me, see how I can get my teammates involved.”
That kind of selfless attitude has clearly brushed off on Nwokedi’s teammates too.
Through 20 games, the Red and Blue have racked up assists on 325 of their best buckets. The team’s average of 16.25 assists per game leads the Ancient Eight, although the Tigers don’t trail too far behind with 15.62 assists per game.
The passing proficiency of both teams was on display in Penn and Princeton’s first match-up as the two teams combined for 33 assists and only 19 turnovers, and there’s little reason to believe that Tuesday’s game won’t feature similar teamwork.
In fact, Penn might even share the ball better, because according to Penn coach Mike McLaughlin, the Quakers have improved since their Ivy-opening loss.
“We’re better than we were [then],” McLaughlin said after the Harvard game.
But while the Red and Blue might be a better team than they were a few weeks ago, the challenge will be for them to keep on making strides as the season progresses into the home stretch of Ivy play.
Penn has now played each team in the Ancient Eight once, and its game against Princeton will mark the first time the Quakers have played an opponent for the second time all season.
With six more rematches scheduled between the Princeton game and the end of the regular season, though, playing opponents twice — and possibly even three times in the Ivy League Tournament — is something Penn will need to get used to.
Tuesday’s game will mark the rare occasion of an Ivy contest that Penn isn’t favored in, but the humbling message McLaughlin delivered after Saturday’s impressive win over Harvard might just serve as some encouragement for the Quakers.
“Anyone can beat anyone in our league.”
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