Back and forth, back and forth.
In what was a game of runs, Penn women’s basketball and Villanova went tit for tat until the final buzzer, but it was the Wildcats that had the stronger finish, and they prevailed by a score of 58-50.
The loss was Penn's first at home this season, and it was one in which the Quakers (9-3, 2-1 Big 5) started off hot. To open the contest, the Red and Blue jumped out to a 13-2 lead, as sophomore center Eleah Parker and senior forward Princess Aghayere scored six and five points, respectively, in the first period. The group seemed in complete control, with the Wildcats (11-6, 4-0) being unable to get anything to fall.
However, a switch was flipped in the second quarter, and Villanova began to knock down the open looks that it was creating. To begin the period, guards Kelly Jekot and Adrianna Hahn nailed a pair of three-pointers to momentarily hush the Palestra crowd. The deep ball was something that the Wildcats were either going to live or die by. As it turned out, they lived by it, making 11-of-30 threes en route to victory.
In the fourth quarter, especially, Villanova made treys at the right time. Senior forward Jannah Tucker drilled three of them, while Hahn and Jekot added one each in the final period. These deep balls, along with tight defense, turned out to be the difference for the Wildcats.
“They spread us pretty wide in the fourth quarter,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “They’re a hard team to play when they get the lead; they dribble over and spread you. And then Tucker hit a really difficult three from the deep corner when they went into that with five minutes to go. When we got under five and they were ahead, they closed [us] out. They have a system, and they do it very well.”
A bright spot for Penn the entire game was Parker, who finished with 25 points and 17 rebounds, eight of which were offensive boards. In fact, Penn as a team crashed the offensive glass well and finished with 19 boards on that end alone.
“That’s always one of our main points every game, especially this game,” Parker said. “I saw last game when we played Princeton, those big offensive rebounds that turned into easy layups, so that was a big carryover for this game that I really focused on.”
Halfway through the third quarter, it looked as if the Red and Blue were going to have a hard time getting back into the game, trailing by six and flat-footed on offense. However, freshman Mia Lakstigala checked into the game and provided a spark. She and Parker led the group on a 10-0 run to end the period, and all of a sudden Penn found itself ahead, 39-36, entering the final 10 minutes of action.
Unfortunately for the Quakers, Villanova’s highest scoring quarter was the last one. Along with its five three-pointers in the period, the away team locked down on defense. After sophomore forward Tori Crawford’s free throw with 7:04 remaining, Penn did not score again until junior guard Phoebe Sterba banked in a three with 43 seconds left. At that point, however, Villanova was leading, 55-48, and the contest was all but over.
“We just couldn’t flow offensively; we left a few points on the table earlier in the game,” McLaughlin said. “To [the Wildcats'] credit, they guarded us very effectively. Eleah was dominant, but we just didn’t have enough around her. I didn’t think our guard play was good enough to beat a really good team today. We just did not have enough continuity on the offensive end.”
With the loss, Penn no longer has the opportunity to compete for a second consecutive Big 5 title, as Villanova completed a perfect season against its city rivals. However, the Red and Blue’s home matchup against Temple on Jan. 23 will still be one for bragging rights.