It’s not the NCAA Tournament, but it’s still a chance to shine in the postseason.
On March 16, Penn women’s basketball will host the University of Albany in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). While not as prestigious as the Big Dance, the WNIT is filled with teams that just missed out on spots in the NCAAs and that will provide stiff competition for the Quakers.
“When you have two postseason tournaments, obviously the NCAA is the one everyone knows, but this is big,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “There’s only 100 teams in the country that get a chance to do this, and to say we’re in that group of schools, that’s pretty awesome."
The Red and Blue (21-8, 11-3 Ivy), ranked No. 61 in RPI, earned the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the WNIT by virtue of being the highest placed team in the conference not participating in the NCAA Tournament.
Coming off a crushing 63-34 loss against Princeton in the final of the Ivy Tournament, Penn will be eager to shake off the defeat and look to make a deep run in the WNIT. For Penn’s seniors, these games will be the last they play in a Penn uniform, so they want to make the moment last as long as they can.
“Since we didn’t play well our last time on the court, I’m glad we get a chance to do it again,” said McLaughlin. “[The seniors] just want to play as long as they’re allowed to play.”
The Red and Blue's lead scoring duo of senior captain Michelle Nwokedi and freshman Eleah Parker will be the pair to watch on both offense and defense, combining for over 23 points per game and 126 of Penn's 172 blocks this season.
Albany (24-7, 12-4 America East), No. 83 in RPI, is making its first appearance in the WNIT after also winning its league’s automatic bid. The Great Danes finished second in the regular season before being upset in the semifinals of the conference tournament by No. 6 seed Hartford. This season snapped Albany’s run of six straight years of participating in the NCAA Tournament, over which they managed one win due to low seeding.
At home this season, the Quakers are 10-3, with their only losses coming at the hands of national powerhouse Notre Dame and twice against Ivy League champion Princeton. Posting a 11-1 record in-conference against teams not named Princeton, the Quakers have had success competing against teams around Albany’s level and will have a definite advantage playing at the Palestra.
“I hope we get the word out and we get some fans here,” said McLaughlin. “I hope they help celebrate this team and help them get that boost back on the court. We’ve played well at home all year, and [this Friday is] gonna be a chance to do it again.”
One of Albany’s strengths is its powerful offense. The Great Danes led the America East in points per game with 68.9, averaging just over three more points than Penn's 65.8. However, the Quakers are known for their stout defense, allowing just 54.7 points a game. If they want to advance, the Red and Blue will need to limit Albany’s offense, specifically leading scorer Jessica Fequiere, who averages over 17 points per game.
Should Penn prevail on Friday, the team will face the winner of the game between Marist and St. John’s early next week. The current task at hand, however, is getting past Albany.
The Quakers might not be in the Big Dance, but they aren’t done yet.
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