Step number one: beat Harvard.
After clinching a share of the regular season Ivy League title with back-to-back wins against Yale and Brown this past weekend, Penn women’s basketball has its sights set on the Ivy League Tournament, which will take place this weekend at Yale.
The No. 2 Quakers (22-5, 12-2 Ivy) will take on the No. 3 Crimson (16-11, 9-5) in their first matchup on Saturday, hoping to advance to the championship on Sunday against either No. 1 Princeton (20-9, 12-2) or No. 4 Cornell (12-13, 6-8).
Penn’s only two conference losses have come against Harvard and Princeton — the most recent being a tough 68-53 battle against Princeton — so the Quakers have plenty of motivation to come out on top.
“We have a lot to prove," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "We want to be the best.”
The Quakers have played two tough games against the Crimson this season, dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker in Cambridge, Mass. and winning another tight contest in OT at the Palestra on March 1. After dropping the second game in a thriller, Harvard will surely be looking for revenge.
“It’s going to be a long game, and it’s going to come down to the end,” senior guard Ashley Russell said.
This season, the defining metric of the Quakers has been their defense. Allowing only 53.7 points per game, Penn very well may be capable of slowing down Harvard’s high-scoring offense and scraping out a potentially close game for a shot at the championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.
In analyzing the Quakers’ potential championship matchups, it would be surprising if Cornell were to advance to the final. The Big Red have given up on average more points to their opponents than they have scored, and Penn’s two games with them have ended in double-digit victories for the Quakers. Additionally, Princeton beat Cornell by 29 points on the road earlier this season.
The Tigers present a more difficult matchup. With an offense just as high scoring as Harvard’s, Princeton has put the Quakers to the test defensively this season, scoring at least 60 points in both matchups. During its loss to the Tigers, Penn’s offense faltered in the second half, falling behind and eventually losing by double-digits.
If the defense is able to remain consistent, as it has all year, and the offense can find a rhythm, the Big Dance might be in the Quakers’ sights.
“It’s definitely in the back of our minds,” Russell said.
A big shift in Ivy Tournament play this year is its location, as the Tournament took place at the Palestra in 2017 and 2018. However, the Ivy League made the decision to move the venue to Yale last May, forcing the Quakers to step outside their comfort zone.
“The dimensions are all the same; it’s just about playing the right way,” McLaughlin said.
The team’s overall energy, however, spurred by fast breaks and big shots, could allow Penn to look past the colors and insignias on the court and just play the game.
“If we get a block, if we take a charge, everyone goes crazy,” Russell said.
With an Ivy League title already under their belt, the Quakers are striving to make their homecoming that much sweeter and earn a spot in March Madness.
That would be a fitting finish for the Red and Blue.