Bring on the Big 5.
On Saturday, Penn men’s basketball will take on cross-city foe La Salle in its first Big 5 game of the season.
With a third of the season already in the books, the Quakers (7-2) have begun to display the form that propelled them to the Ivy League championship last season. This past Tuesday, they played what perhaps was their most impressive game under coach Steve Donahue in a thrilling 89-75 win over ACC heavyweight Miami (Fla.).
In that game, Penn unleashed its long-distance shooting talent by connecting on 13 of its 23 attempts from beyond the arc. Five of those baskets came from freshman forward Michael Wang, who has made 46.2 percent of his threes this season.
“I think it’s just hard work,” Wang said. “We work a lot on our shots during practice and I spend quite some time in the gym after practice as well. Also, the way we play is awesome in that we look for each other all the time, and that’s been really helpful.”
The Quakers will surely be hoping that their hands stay hot when they face off against the Explorers (0-9), who beat Penn last year in a back-and-forth double-overtime game that ended 75-71. Junior forward AJ Brodeur, who in that game was double-teamed constantly and struggled to make an impact, believes his team is ready to come roaring out of the gates.
“We’re definitely trying to avenge that loss. Especially teams in the Big 5 that we get to play every year, there’s just a bit more to [these games],” Brodeur said.
Since that game, however, both teams have experienced a reversal in fortunes. Penn is about to defend its Ivy League title and has set foot on the national stage. Meanwhile, La Salle has yet to register its first win this season under new coach Ashley Howard. Regardless of their opponents’ record, the Quakers will not let their guard down.
“I definitely think that their record is a little misleading, as they’ve played a lot of good teams,” Brodeur said. “We’re going to prepare for [Saturday] as hard as any other game. We know what they’re capable of.”
Penn’s game against the Explorers comes just three days before it hosts reigning national champion Villanova, which has dominated the Big 5 in recent history. With that game in mind, coach Steve Donahue remained tight-lipped when asked whether he would be giving his bench players extended minutes on Saturday.
“I think our bench is doing well, in particular [sophomore forward] Jarrod [Simmons] and [sophomore guard] Eddie [Scott],” Donahue said. “If they play well in practice and can help us, I’m not against helping our team get some depth.”
And when asked if they can take the Big 5 crown from the Wildcats:
“We’d love to win it,” Donahue said. “But then the important thing is that there are four steps to [winning the Big 5]. The first one is to win on Saturday.”
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