NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Penn women’s basketball fought and scratched, but couldn’t turn in a performance good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament.
They were right there with Princeton the whole game — they led for most of it. Penn won three of the four quarters, shot over 35 percent from both the field and the floor, outrebounded Princeton by a significant margin, but still lost.
To be clear, the difference was slim. Despite the 11-point margin, the game only got out of hand within the last few minutes, as Princeton pulled away by cashing in on Penn’s desperation fouls.
The difference wasn’t Princeton star and future-WNBA draft pick Bella Alarie, despite her 25 points, and five blocks. It wasn’t even Princeton guard Gabrielle Rush, who scored 18, including four three-pointers. And despite sophomore center Eleah Parker’s 10 points on 23 shots, her lack of scoring wasn’t the problem either.
The problem was Princeton guard Carlie Littlefield. If Alarie and Rush were going to score, Penn needed to make sure nobody else did. Instead, Littlefield poured in 13 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter to help the Tigers pull away.
The problem was the last six minutes of the game. Penn didn’t make a field goal in the last 6:28. No team who does that wins games.
What was surprising was why they couldn’t score.
I expected Alarie to give Parker trouble down low. What I didn’t expect was Penn having so much trouble passing the ball. The Quakers finished with only three assists. In the first three quarters, senior guard Ashley Russell’s drives to the rim were enough to keep them in front, but Littlefield’s emergence required something more.
As coach Mike McLaughlin reminded the media at the postgame press conference, Penn is still an Ivy League champion. That title is given to the regular season winner. Penn has won (or shared) four of those in the past six years.
The reminder rang hollow. You could see the pain in McLaughlin’s face when he said it. This team had NCAA aspirations. While they will be playing postseason basketball — McLaughlin confirmed that the Quakers will accept the inevitable WNIT bid — the WNIT was not their goal.
Again, like I did for men's basketball, I want to take a minute to compare the full body of work over a season to the preseason expectations. Penn was not expected to seriously contend for the Ivy title. Princeton and Alarie are just too good, and Penn’s loss of last season’s senior class was too much to overcome.
That thinking was disproven. The current seniors, Russell and forward Princess Agahyere, stepped up in big ways to fill the void. Parker’s game improved relatively to last year as well; if it wasn’t for Alarie, she’d be Ivy Player of the Year.
Penn lost only six games this season and won the Ivy title — both unexpected improvements over last year. The loss of those two seniors will hurt, but the Quakers have already shown they can improve despite losing senior starters.
Optimism for next season won’t make the Red and Blue feel any better.
The Quakers fell tantalizingly, agonizingly short. That hurts.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College junior from Pittsburgh and Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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