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The performance of freshman guard Kayla Padilla has been one of the biggest bright spots during the early stages of the Penn women's basketball season.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn women’s basketball fell to Duke, 66-50, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. in the early afternoon of Black Friday, but the Quakers showed enough to quench any suspicions that the team’s 4-0 start, which was the best in program history, was a fluke.

The final scoreline and its 16-point margin of defeat on their own don't scream, “Everything is okay,” but after falling behind early and struggling mightily from the field all day, the Red and Blue demonstrated the toughness and togetherness that constitute the foundations of winning teams. 

What’s more is that even on a day when shots weren’t falling, the defense held its ground. Duke (5-2) managed just 66 points — nearly 10 below their season average, which features three outings putting up 58 or fewer points — and they did it with some outstanding shooting. The Blue Devils shot 24-for-51 from the field, good for 47.1%, a good mark for anyone, including a team like Duke, which is shooting 42.9% on the year.

Not only did the Quakers (4-1) make Duke work for its victory, but they did it in a tough road environment against one of the more successful programs in college basketball. The Red and Blue hadn’t yet faced any serious competition during the 2019-2020 campaign, so they should take confidence from the fact that they were definitely capable of hanging with favored opponents.

Another source of potential comfort is that Penn didn’t get strong performances from a number of players on whom it can typically rely. Junior center Eleah Parker had as bad an offensive performance as she has ever had for the Quakers. In 31 minutes, she went 2-for-9 from the field for four points, and she managed just four rebounds. That said, she chipped in on the other end of the floor with two blocks and four steals.

Senior leaders Kendall Grasela and Phoebe Sterba struggled from the floor as well. Sterba shot 2-for-9 from beyond the arc and 30% overall en route to registering eight points, and Grasela was held scoreless after missing each of the five shots that she attempted.

Back to positivity, though.

While those experienced players didn’t show up in the way they likely expected of themselves, some newer faces who had already impressed before the matchup with Duke had promising afternoons. 

Freshman guard Kayla Padilla, like the entire team, couldn’t get into a great offensive rhythm, but she still finished with 15 points. She was averaging 18.8 points per contest going into the game, and that sort of output doesn’t look as though it will change too dramatically. She played 39 minutes — tied with Duke star Haley Gorecki for the most of any player on the day — and finished with more assists than turnovers, at four and three, respectively.

Additionally, Kennedy Suttle continued her solid run of play to begin the season. In 31 minutes, the sophomore forward scored 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting, and she added five rebounds, of which three were offensive, one block, and three steals.

At the end of the day, Penn lost because it couldn’t hit shots when it mattered, and Duke could. It was impressive for the Quakers to respond in the way they did in the second half after falling behind, 34-13, with 4:13 remaining in the second quarter. After outscoring the Blue Devils 22-11 in the third, the lead was just 49-44.

A closer look at the game’s statistics shows that, aside from shooting, the teams weren’t too far apart. Each had 16 assists, and the Red and Blue committed 12 turnovers, seven fewer than the 19 they forced from Duke. Penn had more points off turnovers, more bench points, and more blocks than its opponent. 

The only glaring disparities come in the defensive rebounding and personal foul departments, where Duke picked up 13 more defensive rebounds — the Quakers provided plenty of misses to collect — and were called for just eight fouls in comparison to the Red and Blue’s 18. Not necessarily home cooking, but the home team did take 12 more free throws.

All in all, there’s plenty of good for Penn women’s basketball to take from this game. Duke was the best remaining opponent on the Quakers’ schedule before Ivy League play begins with their Jan. 11 home contest against Princeton and Bella Alarie, the team's defending Ivy League Player of the Year. The Red and Blue made it a game even when playing relatively poorly against a good team.