As January comes to an end, it's time for conference play.
After losing the Ivy League championship game and graduating four seniors last year, Penn women’s basketball has been able to reinvent itself this season. Dominating the defensive end, the Quakers (11-3, 1-0 Ivy) secured a second-place finish in the Big 5, with three wins against their city rivals.
Now they are ready to hit the road in back-to-back games against Cornell and Columbia. The team already has an Ivy win under its belt, after taking down Princeton on Jan. 5.
Cornell (7-6, 1-1) has had a season of ups and downs. At home, Big Red have been especially strong, winning all six of its games in Ithaca, N.Y. Junior forward Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, who is averaging just under 15 points per game, and a defense that is allowing just 57.1 points per game are two key reasons for this success at home.
According to coach Mike McLaughlin, transition offense will be especially important for the Red and Blue this weekend.
“[Cornell] is a challenging place to play. They have a great home court advantage and a nice crowd," McLaughlin said. “They also switch defenses a lot, so we need to be focused and play really well there.”
Columbia (5-10, 1-1) has had a tough season thus far, as the team is currently in the bottom half of the Ivy League in scoring margin (-2.7). But this may be the perfect opportunity for the Lions, especially after a win against Cornell on Saturday and solid performances from junior guard Janiya Clemmons and freshman forward Lilian Kennedy.
“We definitely need to focus on our defense and turn it into a transition offense," sophomore center Eleah Parker said. “If we can lock up our defense, we can be very successful in this game."
However, the Red and Blue will have to face another challenge: the long travel.
“These upcoming games will be a challenge for our bodies and our minds," Parker said. "Keeping up with our classes and having work to do while still focusing on our games is going to be hard. Most people may not recognize the travel, but it is a four-hour drive between one game and the other.”
The first back-to-back games of the Ivy season will be crucial for the Quakers’ success in the conference. With a balanced team, led by Parker, who has consistently scored in double-digits and currently ranks second in blocks per game nationally, Penn is heading into the heart of the season with positive momentum.
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