Penn women’s basketball capped off its weekend series with a 69-58 win against Cornell on Saturday. The sweep of the New York Ivies makes the Quakers 8-1 in League play with just five regular season games remaining. Here are three takeaways from this weekend’s pair of victories.
Princess Aghayere is an x-factor
When thinking about this Penn team, sophomore center Eleah Parker and senior guard Ashley Russell usually come to mind for most fans, and for good reason. However, forward Princess Aghayere has been a quiet star for this Quakers this season. The senior is averaging 15.0 points and 8.4 rebounds per Ivy game, both of which are second-best team totals.
This weekend in particular, Aghayere played with poise and proved that she can score from anywhere on the court. On Saturday, she began her career-best 23-point scoring outburst by spotting up from midrange and knocking down shots when the defense sagged off. In the fourth quarter, she stepped out even further and nailed a three to extend Penn’s lead to nine at a crucial point in the game.
But Aghayere was even more effective in the paint, where she played with grit and toughness. Not only did she grab seven offensive rebounds, but she turned several of those opportunities into second chance points. She was also efficient, making all four of her free-throw attempts and shooting 9-for-15 from the field.
The Quakers may not need a 23 point, 10 rebound performance from Aghayere to win every game, but she will need to continue her stellar play if the group wants to come away as conference champions.
The defense is good but still showed some holes
While Friday’s victory against Columbia featured a relatively dominant showing from Penn’s defense, the group struggled mightily in the first half against Cornell. Junior forwards Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Samantha Widmann caused all kinds of problems for the Quakers in the first 20 minutes, as they scored 17 and nine points, respectively, in the first two periods.
A strong offensive performance from Bagwell-Katalinich is certainly not uncommon, as she is one of the premier scorers in the Ivy League with 16.1 points per game. But to score 17 against Penn in one half is unheard of.
It’s not as if the Big Red were making a ton of threes, either. In fact, they made just two in the first half. Surprisingly, most of their points came from going right at Parker. On many occasions, Cornell dumped the ball inside and gave its forwards — typically Bagwell-Katalinich — the option to either spot up from 10 feet or drive the ball inside. Parker was initially content to let them take the short, open jumpers, but once the Big Red proved that they could hit that shot with ease, Parker was forced to come out of the paint, where she is less comfortable playing defense.
With all of that being said, the Quakers made the necessary adjustments in the second half and held Cornell to just 22 points on 9-of-34 shooting in the last two quarters. Bagwell-Katalinich, for her part, scored just five points after the halftime break. The best teams are the ones that make in-game adjustments, and the Red and Blue showed on Saturday that they can do just that.
More questions will be answered on Tuesday
All that really needs to be said is that it’s Penn versus Princeton. One of these two teams has emerged as Ivy League champions in each of the last nine years, and it’s looking like that could be the case again this season.
On Tuesday, Penn will square of against its rivals for the second time this year. In the teams’ first meeting, the Quakers pulled off a fourth quarter comeback to shock the Tigers on their own home court. Needless to say, there will be plenty of emotion in Tuesday’s matchup.
While this weekend’s sweep was a nice stepping stone for Penn, the group will face a true test on Tuesday, especially because both sides have improved since the Jan. 5 contest. At this point, we know the Red and Blue are a good team — on Tuesday, we’ll find out how good.