Penn women’s basketball kept it close to start, but it was all Notre Dame after the first quarter, leading to a 75-55 loss to the defending champion Fighting Irish. Despite the blowout defeat, there are many takeaways from the Quakers’ battle against the nation's No. 1 team.
Kendall Grasela is not Anna Ross — and that’s okay
Grasela’s second career start was a mixed bag, though it was definitely an improvement from her performance in her first career start against Siena.
The junior scored 10 points on an efficient 4 of 6 shooting. However, she also committed a team high six turnovers to only two assists. Replacing a legend like Anna Ross, who is Penn’s career leader in assists, is no easy feat. Similar to how the men’s team figures to replace recently injured Ryan Betley, the women’s team will need many guards to match what Ross brought to the floor the past four years. The burden will not and should not fall solely on Grasela.
Still, what’s apparent is that Grasela has one of the most polished offensive games on the team. Already known for her outside shooting, Grasela displayed a series of nifty, Kyrie Irving-esque finishes at the rim, and was far better than her stat line indicated. Against Ivy competition, fans should expect Grasela to be more composed running the offense. She is not the caliber of player Anna Ross is — almost no one in Penn basketball history is — but she is good enough to help this team to its ultimate goal of an Ivy League championship.
Guard production will be crucial, especially off the bench
The majority of Penn’s points were scored by guards in this game, which is something the team might not be used to. With the emphasis usually on the forwards and centers, a tough, physical, and big Notre Dame team forced the Quakers’ guards to step up in a way that they don’t usually have to. Although they didn’t come out with the win, both senior Ashley Russell and junior Phoebe Sterba showed promising flashes.
This team usually focuses on playing guards in more of a complementary role, but tonight they were on full display, spending time with the ball in isolation, slashing to the hoop, and drawing contact at the rim. The whole team played the game tough – something to be proud of against one of the best teams in the country.
Additionally, over a third of Penn’s 55 points in this game came from the bench, mostly from guards. In order for this Penn team to succeed, this is a trend that will need to continue. Penn has been a deep team for many years, but without its usual powerhouse starting lineup, that depth and bench production will become even more critical. With such a solid rotating group of guards, coach Mike McLaughlin will have a lot of room to experiment and find a second unit that works.
Neutralizing Eleah Parker will affect the entire roster
It’s not possible to take sophomore center Eleah Parker completely out of a game, but Notre Dame did the best version of it that we’ve seen in Parker's time at Penn. Holding the 2017-18 Ivy Rookie of the Year to only six points and five rebounds, the Fighting Irish showed just how crucial her role is for this team.
Parker is a selfless player who welcomes double and triple-teams and prioritizes finding the open player and getting the best possible shot. Her gravity on the court – her ability to pull defenders in and create space around the perimeter – is crucial to how the entire game plan functions.
It’s not all Parker’s fault, but it certainly seems like the fact that Notre Dame’s powerful bigs could defend her one-on-one played a role in the lowered efficiency of the entire rest of the team. Most notably, Sterba, who figured to be the team’s new sharpshooter after the Siena game, had an off night, shooting only 2 of 7 from beyond the arc.
It’s always the case that if a team can shut down your best player, it’s going to be tough to win. In the scheme that Penn plays, this is especially true.