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Freshman guard Mia Lakstigala scored eight points and knocked down a pair of threes in the Quakers' 85-42 home win against NJIT.

Credit: Son Nguyen

In its second home game of the season, Penn women’s basketball got out to an early lead and never looked back, ultimately beating NJIT 85-42. Simply put, the Highlanders were no match for the Red and Blue on Saturday afternoon. But even though the Quakers didn’t face the greatest competition in this one, there are still some takeaways from the win.

Ashley Russell looks more and more like a star player

Eighteen points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals. That’s a great stat line for a game. Penn senior guard Ashley Russell put up those numbers in the first half on Saturday. By game’s end, she finished with 25 points on 10 for 13 shooting. 

Last year, Russell fulfilled the role of a high energy player who could knock down the three ball. Much of her impact last year was also a result of things that weren’t apparent in the box score, such as pressing her opponent on defense and diving for loose balls. She’s still making those type of plays this season but has had the ball in her hands more often.

On Saturday, she displayed a level of assertiveness and confidence with the ball that was not as prevalent in the 2017-18 season. In this game, she hit the open three if she had it; she put the ball on the floor when she needed to and made the pull-up jumper or took it all the way to the rim; and she found her teammates when they had open shots of their own.

Simply put, the Massachusetts native has found a way to make her mark on seemingly every possession. And while her play is sometimes overshadowed by the dominance of sophomore center Eleah Parker, a performance like the one on Saturday makes it impossible to undervalue her contributions.

Matching Penn’s energy is a tough task

Russell might be the scrappiest player on Penn’s roster, but she is certainly not the only one to bring a high level of intensity to every game. Whether it was rebounding, hustling for loose balls, or playing defense, the Quakers did everything with more aggression than NJIT on Saturday.

There was a stretch at the end of the first and into the second period when the Highlanders were hardly able to get the ball across half court. In total, they turned the ball over 17 times, 12 of which were a result of Penn steals. Additionally, the Quakers got out and ran for much of the afternoon, totaling 21 fast break points, compared to NJIT’s four.

As the season progresses, it will be important for the Red and Blue to maintain the level of energy they demonstrated on Saturday, especially since they don’t have the same playmakers, like Michelle Nwokedi and Anna Ross, that they did last season. Shooting 50 percent from three-point range, as they did on Saturday, is something that the Quakers won’t always do. Out-hustling their opponents, though, is something that can remain a constant.

Bench players showed flashes of greatness

One of the great things about a blowout win is that the victors have the opportunity to check in some players who don’t normally get much time on the court. That’s exactly what happened in this one for Penn.

In total, Penn got 16 players into the game on Saturday, as the contest was essentially over by halftime. As Ivy play approaches, the importance of these games cannot be overstated. The Quakers are still trying to figure out their identity and who they can rely on down the stretch. That’s why playing the bench as much as possible is invaluable.

Among the reserve players who made an impact was the guard trio of freshman Mia Lakstigala, sophomore Michae Jones, and junior Phoebe Sterba. Jones scored 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting and was strong in taking the ball to the basket. Lakstigala and Sterba did most of their damage from beyond the arc, combining for 16 points and four three-pointers.

It certainly wasn’t a one-person show for the Quakers against NJIT, as the bench dropped 42 points in all. Coach Mike McLaughlin and his team might have to continue to go deep into the bench come Ivy season, and Saturday was a nice example of what that group can do when called upon.

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