It may not have been pretty, but they found a way to survive and advance.
No. 2 Penn women’s basketball grinded past No. 3 Harvard in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament, topping the Crimson, 57-52, in a gritty and low-scoring affair. The Quakers will face off against No. 1 Princeton in the final on Sunday for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament.
The contest was even throughout, and Penn (21-7, 11-3 Ivy) never led by more than seven points. The two teams traded leads for the first three quarters until the Quakers eventually found the slightest of daylight, but even still, they needed until the last ten seconds to ensure a victory over the Crimson (18-10, 10-4).
Two made free throws by senior Beth Brzozowski with eight seconds left made it a two-possession game after several minutes of nail-biting ties and one-, two- and three-point leads for the Quakers. The five-point cushion pressured Harvard into chasing a miracle, unable to rely on sophomore Katie Benzan’s remarkable performance to carry her team over the line.
Coach Mike McLaughlin’s decision to place lock-down defender Ashley Russell on Benzan for the fourth quarter ultimately paid off, frustrating the game’s star and limiting her to five points — which she scored after forcing a different Penn player to guard her. She finished the game with 20.
“What we were trying to do was to get her out of rhythm,” McLaughlin explained. “I figured it was a good opportunity to let someone else do that. But then it was effective, so I kept Anna [Ross] off the ball….I didn’t think we would be staying with it that long, but it was effective, so we did.”
The next highest scorer on the floor Saturday night was Penn senior guard Anna Ross. After a fruitless first quarter saw her score only her team’s first two points with a pair from the charity stripe, Ross lit up the floor to close the game, finishing with 15 clutch points to push her team across the line.
“We had a few and-1s [to start the fourth quarter], and that really brought us up from there,” Ross remarked of her nine-point performance in the game’s final ten minutes.
It didn’t start out high-scoring, though. After one unsightly quarter of play, both teams stood locked at eight points apiece. The combined field goal percentage through ten minutes was 15 percent.
Penn finished the night at 33 percent, but the Quakers will have to shoot more efficiently against Princeton tomorrow if they want to find their way to the Big Dance for a third consecutive year.
The Tigers (23-5, 12-2) come into the championship game in red-hot form, trouncing No. 4 Yale in Saturday’s semifinal, 78-57. They shot 49 percent from the field and led for 37 minutes, holding the Bulldogs to just 38 percent shooting with great defense.
“We’re gonna have to find a way to play them into the 60s tomorrow; we have to get out of the 40s and 50s against them,” McLaughlin said of his team’s low-scoring performances against the Tigers this season. “We have to...win all the little things that could give us a chance.”
Princeton won both of the teams’ previous games this season by a combined 35 points. If Penn is to lift the Ivy Tournament crown for the second time, it will have to find a new way of taking on the Tigers. Tip off is at 4pm Sunday.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.