As far as tune-up games go, this one went about as well as coach Mike McLaughlin could hope.
Penn women’s basketball dominated Stetson from start to finish in a 75-53 win. The Quakers (8-2) shot over 50 percent from beyond the arc through three quarters before cooling off once the game was already out of reach.
Stetson (4-9) kept it within a few possessions in the first quarter thanks to four offensive rebounds but struggled to find consistent solutions to Penn’s zone defense. That continued into the second quarter until the Quakers erupted on an 11-0 run. Junior guards Phoebe Sterba and Kendall Grasela caught fire from beyond the arc, combining for five triples in the first half. That perimeter scoring carried the Quakers to a 48-29 halftime lead.
The third quarter featured more of the same: the defense limited the Hatters to just three field goals and the Quakers continued to build their lead. Senior guard Ashley Russell had seven points in that quarter alone, part of a team-high 23 points. Russell also lead the Quakers with nine rebounds and eight assists in what was among the most well-rounded performances of her career.
“Ashley Russell was as good today as I’ve seen her. Talk about being effective on both ends: defensively, she scored, she rebounded, she passed, she stole. I don’t know, since I’ve been here, that someone has filled the stat sheet like that,” McLaughlin said.
Many of Russell’s points came from contested layups and mid-range jumpers, shots she has excelled at as a Quaker. Russell’s ability to get shots off in traffic at the end of the shot clock gave the Red and Blue another versatile and dangerous weapon when their opponent tried to clog the post.
“Sometimes if we don’t have an easy pass or an easy look to the post, I’ll try to drive to the basket, and a lot of times there are people down there,” Russell said. “We practice really live, and just going up against contact and making sure we power slide through and finish all the time on layups … that really goes into our game.”
The trip to Florida is not over yet for the Quakers. The team will spend New Year’s Eve at the hotel before visiting Universal Studios in Orlando on Tuesday.
“Our hotel is awesome. They really put us in a great spot. The pool has a waterslide,” Russell said. “We know we’re on a trip and we’re supposed to have fun, but also we know when we’re on the court we’re getting down to business.”
Looking ahead, the Quakers have more serious business in January. The new year means the beginning of conference play, and that means one thing: Princeton. Penn will take on the Tigers on Saturday in a rematch of last season’s Ivy Tournament final. The Tigers won all three matchups over the Red and Blue by at least 15 points last year.
Despite that and the dominance of Princeton junior forward Bella Alarie, who since returning from an injury has averaged over 19 points and eight rebounds in six games, Penn isn’t prepared to adopt an underdog mindset.
“It’s anyone’s game which is how it is for every Ivy League game,” Russell said. “We’re a completely different team than we were last year so I’m not really going to compare us to that, so I think it’s just whoever comes in and wins the dogfight.”
“We’re not going to be able to stop [Alarie] on either end,” McLaughlin said. “She can handle the ball, she can shoot the three, she’s a tremendous player — the best player in the League if not one of the top players in basketball — but we’ll obviously be prepared, and we’re playing well.
“We just want to play, it’s that simple. I would think, on their court, where they’re trending right now with [Alarie] back, we’re going to have to put an absolute A game out there, we know that.”
While the Princeton game only counts for one win or loss in the standings, this battle of the two conference powers figures to be a preview of a more important game: one held at Yale in March.
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