It wasn’t easy, but once again, the Quakers got the job done.
In a tale of two halves, Penn women's basketball prevailed over Yale, 54-48. After a strong start to open a double-digit lead, the Quakers’ (15-3, 5-0 Ivy) offense went on a cold streak in the second half, letting the Bulldogs (14-7, 4-2) back in the game. When it mattered most in the game's final possessions, the Red and Blue got what they needed: points from the free-throw line.
In the first quarter, Penn proved once again why they have the best defense in the conference. The Quakers forced seven turnovers, while senior guard Ashley Russell had four steals and was able to contain the Bulldogs’ Roxy Barahman, who currently ranks first in the League in points per game. Offensively, sophomore center Eleah Parker was dominating the paint, scoring the team’s first 8 points and 12 in the quarter to guarantee an early 12-point lead for the Quakers.
However, Yale opened the second period strong with a 6-0 run to pull back within two possessions. The Red and Blue quickly responded as junior guard Kendall Grasela nailed the Quakers’ first three-pointer of the night after a Parker block. With both teams focused on playing a defensive style of basketball for the rest of the quarter, Penn only managed to extend their lead by one and went to the halftime up by a score of 33-20.
Early into the second half, Parker picked up her fourth foul, forcing coach Mike McLaughlin to turn to the bench. The Quakers then went on a scoring drought, converting only 3-of-16 field goals and not being able to capitalize with any second chance points. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were taking advantage of Parker’s absence, cutting the lead to six points entering the last quarter.
“We didn’t play the offensive end great and didn’t make as many shots as we’d like,” McLaughlin said. “But when we really struggled in that third quarter scoring, we didn’t let their runs get too big.”
Both teams struggled to find space against the other’s defense in the fourth period. Nonetheless, no one was willing to slow down. With a very physical approach, the Bulldogs were taking every shot they could in an effort to keep themselves in the game. After Barahman knocked down a triple and cut the Quakers’ lead to just two points, with 26 seconds remaining, Penn found itself on the brink of an upset.
The Quakers managed to hold on late thanks to consistent free-throw shooting and another clutch performance by Parker: Despite not scoring in the past two quarters, the sophomore center hit two consecutive layups earlier in the fourth and forced a turnover with only ten seconds left to ice the game.
“It was a struggle to sit on the bench with four fouls and watch the team fight, but I tried to use my time wisely while I was out there and stay out as long as I could,” Parker said.
While the Red and Blue continue to be the only undefeated team in the Ivy League, the second half of the game indeed exposed Penn’s reliance on Parker. Despite the consistent defense, the Quakers could not turn stops into offensive success.
“We usually try to go to her to get a basket when we’re struggling, but we didn’t have that option with Eleah out. We didn’t get a whole lot clean around the rim,” McLaughlin said.
“Our league is so competitive and at any given time, there can be an upset,” Parker said. “[This weekend] just reminds us that we have to be on our A-game, no matter if it’s a blowout or a fight until the last minute.”
Looking forward to extending their winning streak, the Quakers will head to Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend.