After being sparked by an 18-3 run in the second quarter, Penn women's basketball defeated Dartmouth, 60-44, on Friday night. On the second night of the road back-to-back, the Red and Blue managed to come back from a 10-point third quarter deficit against Harvard but ultimately fell to the Crimson in double overtime, 80-72, ending their undefeated run in the Ivy League.
Here are three takeaways from the two contests:
The defense is still very consistent
It is no surprise that Penn had a solid weekend defensively. The Red and Blue have allowed only 50.4 points per game, which ranks fourth in the nation through Friday's games. On Saturday, they were successful in forcing turnovers, as they took the ball from Harvard 19 times. The group also did well in contesting its opponents’ shots.
On Friday, the Quakers had good rotations on defense and held Dartmouth to only five points in the second quarter, which secured a double-digit lead that they maintained for the rest of the game. The Big Green could not find any open shots against the strong defense, failing to hit any of their seven attempts from beyond the arc in the period. Moreover, senior guard Ashley Russell contributed three steals and showed once again how important she has been to the team.
Against Harvard, sophomore center Eleah Parker continued her impressive season. She totaled four blocks to go along with her 21 points and 13 rebounds. However, the most crucial defensive play came from sophomore guard Michae Jones, who, besides dropping a career-high 15 points, denied a Harvard three-pointer in the last possession of regulation.
However, the offensive has some lapses
On top of their strong defensive performance, the Quakers were almost unstoppable inside the paint, where they outscored the Big Green 40-16 on Friday. Most importantly, Penn was able to consistently remain strong on offense even with Parker off the court.
Against Dartmouth, the Red and Blue took advantage of a great night from Russell, who scored 19 points and was largely responsible for the Quakers’ quick-strike transition offense. On Saturday, however, Penn could not repeat its performance against the Crimson’s tough defense. Although Parker and senior forward Princess Aghayere combined for 40 points, the team struggled to find a rhythm. After cutting Harvard’s lead to one at the end of the third period, the Quakers went on a cold streak, unable to make a field goal in the last 5:55 of regulation.
In particular, Penn struggled from beyond the arc. The Quakers took several contested shots and went 0-for-8 from deep in the first half, before missing all seven of their threes across the fourth quarter and both overtimes against Harvard. The team's only two makes — the final total was 2-of-19 — came in the third quarter. Throughout the weekend, the Red and Blue missed 33 of 41 attempts from long range, including a miss by Aghayere with only six seconds left in regulation against the Crimson. On the weekend, Penn shot a mere 19.5 percent from deep.
The team fought on every possession, but ran out of gas in overtime
While the physicality of the game does not show up in the box score, it is safe to say that the Quakers battled for every rebound. In the victory over Dartmouth, Aghayere snatched seven of the team’s 16 offensive rebounds, which Penn turned into 13 second-chance points.
The following day, the Red and Blue were even more eager to gain every possession. As usual, Russell could be seen diving for the ball on both ends of the court, and Parker used her height to grab boards. The Quakers also managed to turn many loose balls into jump balls, especially in Saturday's overtime periods.
"[Russell’s] conditioning is phenomenal; she’s an ultra competitor," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "She can impact the game without scoring, because she does so many things, and then when you get her to put in 19 like she did [against Dartmouth], it makes [things] so much better.”
However, playing extra time for the first time since December 2016 may have been too exhausting for Penn. Despite holding on during the first overtime period, the Red and Blue could not carry the same energy that they had in the previous 45 minutes. They became unable to keep up with the Crimson’s speed and fouled Harvard six times in the second extra period, an exceptionally high number considering the Quakers entered the contest committing an NCAA-low 12.7 fouls per game.
After a hard-fought weekend, it remains to be seen how the team is going to respond to its first conference loss. Despite the heartbreaking result, the Quakers are still a strong team with one of the nation's best defenses.