Four games, four victories.
On Wednesday night, the Quakers kicked off Big 5 play in a road matchup against Saint Joseph’s. In what turned out to be a close contest between the two rivals, it was the Red and Blue that emerged with a 55-45 win.
The game began with Penn (4-0) jumping out to an early lead on the Hawks (2-2). However, keeping in line with the school’s famed motto “The Hawk Will Never Die,” St. Joe's refused to allow the Red and Blue to run away with the game.
A large factor in the Hawks’ ability to keep pace with the Quakers was an aggressive style of defense that forced Penn to turn the ball over several times. The Hawks also found a strong rhythm offensively. The most notable of St. Joe's offensive performers were sophomore forward Katie Mayock and sophomore guard Devyne Newman, who finished the game with 15 and 12 points, respectively.
In the first half, neither team was able to build a significant lead. Instead, both sides traded points back and forth until the Quakers put together several scoring possessions at the end of the half. This late Penn rally brought the halftime score to 31-23.
Following a hard-fought first half, the Red and Blue knew they needed to make adjustments in order to slow down the Hawks' offense.
“We started to change defense, and we stayed with it,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “They got off to a [strong offensive] start. They had the momentum, [and] they had the style of play in their favor. I give our players credit [because] we adjusted, and we responded well.”
Halftime adjustments were not the only changes the Quakers had to implement on Wednesday. In its first three victories, Penn relied on its offense, as it averaged just over 83 points per game. However, Wednesday’s low-scoring affair forced the Quakers to rely on its defense.
“They were starting to get their pace [offensively], and they were playing the way they wanted to, so we wanted to scramble the game a little bit [with our defense],” McLaughlin said. “I think it was really helpful. I don’t know if we stopped them from scoring, but the pace started to change a little bit more to our favor.”
Although the hosts continued to have success shooting the ball during the second half of play, the Quakers were able to maintain a lead over the Hawks. Penn’s use of the full-court press created an up-tempo pace that disrupted the offensive momentum St. Joe's enjoyed in the first half.
Another factor in the Red and Blue’s victory was the strong offensive performance of freshman guard Kayla Padilla, who tallied 22 points. Padilla has been a consistent producer for Penn this season with an average of 18.75 points per game. While Padilla is only a freshman, that has not stopped the Quakers from placing the ball in her hands in key situations.
“[Being able to put] the ball in Kayla’s hands with three minutes to go, only four games into her college career, is pretty impressive,” McLaughlin said.
With an array of offensive weapons that includes Padilla, junior center Eleah Parker, senior guard Phoebe Sterba, and more, it is likely that a large portion of Penn’s success will come from its offense. However, despite the capabilities of their offense, the Red and Blue believe that Wednesday’s defensive battle is more indicative of the style of game they expect to play this season.
“Defense is our foundation, so we definitely want to get things going on the defensive end to spark our offense,” Padilla said. “I think we did a good job containing their best players and just getting into a fast-paced game, which we like to do.”
The Red and Blue will be able to showcase both their offense and their defense when they travel to Durham, N.C. for a Nov. 29 matchup at Duke.