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Sophomore center Eleah Parker went off for 16 points and 17 rebounds in Penn women's basketball's win-or-go-home game versus American on Friday.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Stay tuned for another week of Penn basketball. 

Just five days after its heartbreaking loss to Princeton in the Ivy League championship, Penn women’s basketball dominated American, 64-45, in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). Thanks in large part to senior Ashley Russell and sophomore Eleah Parker, the Quakers (24-6, 12-2 Ivy) were in command on both sides of the court throughout the entire game. 

Penn shot 42 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc while holding American (22-11, 16-2 Patriot) to just 31 percent shooting overall. 

"Some games our shots aren't falling as well as they were tonight, but getting a lot of threes definitely gives us a lot more energy as a team," Russell said. "We've been shooting the ball a lot this week trying to get prepared, and I think that really showed tonight." 

The Red and Blue out-rebounded the Eagles, 42 to 28, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. They also had 26 points in the paint while limiting American to zero fast break points and blocking six shots. 

Senior forward Princess Aghayere got things started for the Quakers with a go-ahead layup just 25 seconds into the game. Using solid defense and good shot selection, Penn jumped out to a 9-2 lead with 4:51 left in the first quarter of play. 

American senior forward Cecily Carl ended the Red and Blue run, but Parker and Aghayere sunk their foul shots to increase the early lead to nine. Junior Phoebe Sterba added a three pointer, and the Quakers led 16-5 after one period. 

Coming out of the first quarter break, Penn was firing on all cylinders. The group extended its lead to 21 on a three pointer by Aghayere, but the Quakers' run ended at 10-0 after Carl drilled a three pointer from the top of the key.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Carl’s strong play eventually brought American back to within 18, but sophomore Katie Kinum responded at the other end with a three of her own to push the score to 35-14. The two teams continued to trade baskets before the sounding of the halftime buzzer. 

In the second half, the Eagles jumped out to a 7-0 run right out of the gate. Carl opened the scoring on a layup and then hit a three pointer on the next possession, while senior Kaitlyn Lewis hit a jump shot to force a timeout by Penn coach Mike McLaughlin. 

"I thought we didn't continue our momentum in the first half, but I've got to give credit to American," McLaughlin said. "They made some great plays as they were trying to claw their way back into the game." 

After the pause in action, Sterba knocked in an open three from the right corner to stretch the Penn lead back to 17. The teams traded buckets throughout the rest of the third quarter, and the Quakers led, 54-35, going into the final 10 minutes. 

In the fourth quarter, American senior Elina Koskimies opened the scoring on a three pointer, and American cut Penn’s lead back down to 14 with 8:34 to go. The Red and Blue, however, continued to sink shots and prevailed in the end thanks to the steadfast scoring of Parker and Russell. 

"I was definitely more energized knowing that this could be my last game playing for Penn, and I think that helped me play better tonight," Russell said. "This team cares so much about its seniors, and we really just want to keep playing for as long as we can."

Russell finished with 18 points on five three pointers, while dishing out five assists. Parker scored 16 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and blocked a pair of shots. For American, Carl had 16 points while freshman Jade Edwards chipped in 14. 

The Quakers, who are advancing to the second round of the WNIT, will travel to face Providence at 4 p.m. on Sunday. McLaughlin — although disappointed that Penn will play away from the Palestra — maintained that his team has had a lot of traveling experience this season. 

"Obviously we're disappointed to not get to play at the Palestra on Sunday. I'm not exactly sure how the WNIT determines who gets to host each game, but it's something we're disappointed about," McLaughlin said. "We've definitely traveled a lot this season already, though, and we'll just try and get lots of rest and practice in tomorrow before Sunday."

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