With a game as close as the last one, it’s only fitting that the rematch is already here.
On Saturday, Penn men’s basketball will have the opportunity to avenge last weekend’s 68-65 road overtime loss against rival Princeton. The defeat was the third straight for the Quakers (10-5, 0-1 Ivy) and the first against the Tigers (8-5, 1-0) since March 2017, almost two years ago.
The defending Ivy champions did not bring their A game last Saturday, as they became stagnant on offense for long stretches. The group also had difficulty defending Princeton junior center Richmond Aririguzoh, who scored 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting.
Despite the loss, there is good reason for Penn to be feeling confident entering the rematch. If recent history is any indication, the home crowd at the Palestra will give their team a boost. The Red and Blue have won 18 of 22 games in their own backyard over the last year and a half.
Additionally, Penn will be healthier than it was a week ago, as coach Steve Donahue clarified that there will be no limitations in terms of injuries this Saturday. That, of course, means that freshman forward Michael Wang will be closer to full strength than in the team's previous three games, in which he dealt with an ankle injury.
“I think [Michael will be 100 percent]. Yeah, he’s had a great week,” Donahue said. “Last week, he barely could practice; we tried to hold him out. This week, he has practiced every day, and I don’t see any limp or anything.”
Senior forward Max Rothschild will also benefit from having a week of rest, as the big man has been nursing a back injury throughout the season. A healthier frontcourt and raucous home crowd could be the key to getting the Quakers in the win column in Ivy play.
One improvement that Penn hopes to make this weekend is its shooting from both the free throw and three-point lines. Last Saturday, the team shot 5-for-20 from the arc and missed five of eight attempts from the charity stripe in overtime.
“We spend a lot of time [in practice] taking it seriously, knocking down free throws,” senior guard Antonio Woods said. “It’s just [about] making the transition to the game as well. So that’s been a big focus this week.”
Just as in last weekend’s matchup, foul shots could again be a big factor in determining who comes out of the rivalry game on top.
And while Penn and Princeton are all too familiar with each other, they are not used to playing each other in back-to-back weeks. In fact, the teams have never played each other twice in a row to open the conference season. This unique scheduling makes preparing for this weekend’s game a bit different than usual, but Donahue is not making any drastic changes in how he gets his team ready.
“I have 10 years of back-to-back experience at Cornell, against Columbia, when I was there,” Donahue said. “And my experience is [that] you can only do so much based on what happened on Saturday. I think the first part of the week we probably did more of us, how we can get better … and then the last two days you start zeroing in on what you could have done better over the last 45 minutes we played Princeton.”
As if the recent losing streak wasn’t enough to get Penn amped up for Saturday, the team will also be donning throwback uniforms to honor the 1978-79 Penn men’s basketball team that reached the Final Four.
“To be able to honor those guys while I’m still here is a big thing for me,” Woods said. “The history itself at the Palestra and just Penn in general means a lot to me, and just to be able to honor those guys; it’s gonna be a special moment.”
That 1978-79 team beat Princeton by one point in each of their two meetings, and though this year’s squad will not be sweeping the Tigers, the group can still channel the success of their predecessors with a victory at the Palestra on Saturday.