The Quakers perhaps would have been excused if they had come out sluggish in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. After all, they are just one week removed from a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament championship game. But Penn did just the opposite on Friday night when it dispatched American at the Palestra, 64-45.
“It was a disappointing ending on Sunday [against Princeton], but this group wants to play, they want to continue to play,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “They’re fatigued, they’re mentally and physically fatigued, but we found a way.”
The Red and Blue (24-6, 12-2 Ivy) didn’t show their wear and tear, however, getting off to a hot start against the visiting Eagles (22-11, 16-2 Patriot). They never looked back on the road to handling their opponent in convincing fashion.
Now that the Quakers are in their final tournament of the postseason, the team is well aware that each game could be its last together, and the group is playing accordingly. Sophomore center Eleah Parker, who was just one of three players who scored in double figures for Penn, put in a resounding 16-point, 17-rebound, two-block performance to reassure everyone of her Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year status.
Also impactful for the Red and Blue was senior guard Ashley Russell. On a night when the Quakers’ keys to the game included playing a complete 40 minutes, shooting well from deep, and converting from the foul line, Russell did just about everything to help her team win. In addition to contributing 18 points, four rebounds, and five assists, the senior made each of her four free throw attempts in 39 minutes of play.
Russell was far from alone in her all-around performance. Penn shot an impressive 43 percent from beyond the arc, making 9-of-21 attempts. That number figured to be better after the Red and Blue hit 60 percent of their three-pointers in the first half, but the second half saw a more defensive battle between both teams.
In postseason play, successful squads are those that manage not to beat themselves. While they didn’t find themselves at the stripe terribly often, the Quakers made 11-of-13 free throw attempts. That 84.6 percent clip not only topped American’s 67 percent, but it also showed marked improvement upon a 10-of-14 performance against Princeton in last weekend’s Ivy title game.
While Penn’s outing was surely impressive after experiencing such fresh disappointment, there’s still undoubtedly room to improve, especially if the Red and Blue want to keep playing and make a deep run in the WNIT.
After winning the first and second quarters, 16-5 and 22-12, respectively, the Quakers played American quite evenly in the final two periods of play. They did enough to keep the Eagles at bay after going into halftime with a 21-point lead, but Penn will need to rely on more than its customarily stingy defense when it tries to secure victories late in games against tougher opposition.
The Red and Blue turned the ball over 10 times in the second half alone and out-rebounded American 19-18, a relatively weak mark when compared with their 23-10 domination of the boards in the first half.
“[In the] third quarter, we had some breakdowns and [American] did a really good job attacking our zone,” McLaughlin said. “We struggled a little bit in the fourth, but we did enough because we defended the ball really well.”
As they prepare for their Sunday matchup with Providence (18-15, 8-10 Big East), the Quakers will need to sharpen the finer aspects of their game while also taking confidence from a winning performance.
JACKSON SATZ is a College sophomore from Nashville, Tenn. and an Associate Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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