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Junior center Eleah Parker (right) added 10 points and four rebounds for Penn women's basketball in the team's loss to Villanova on Wednesday night.

Credit: Son Nguyen

It only takes one quarter to completely flip a game on its head.

Penn women’s basketball’s hopes to capture this season's Big 5 crown suffered a big blow Wednesday night, as the Quakers fell to current Big 5 title holder Villanova by a score of 70-58. 

Rallying behind a momentum-shifting third quarter, the Wildcats (10-7, 3-1 Big 5) outscored the Red and Blue (10-3, 2-1) 38-22 in the second half to run away with the victory.

Before the game, the focus was on a pair of freshman players: Penn guard Kayla Padilla and Villanova redshirt forward Madison Siegrist. Both players have emerged as key contributors for their respective teams this season by averaging over 20 points per game.

Having the home-court advantage, the Wildcats came out firing on all cylinders and quickly jumped out to a 13-8 lead entering the first timeout. But the Quakers ramped up their defensive intensity, especially along the three-point line, to go on a 13-4 run and retake the lead. Siegrist chipped in with a game-high 10 points in the quarter, but Padilla responded with nine of her own.

It was a back-and-forth affair in the second quarter. Penn stretched its lead to 11 just three minutes into the quarter, but the Wildcats rallied back behind a pair of quick threes from senior forward Bridget Herlihy. Combining to score 23 of Villanova’s 32 points, the pair of Siegrist and Herlihy provided much-needed offense in the first half for the home side. The Quakers relied on slick offense and few turnovers — only four compared to Villanova's 11 in the first half — to take a 36-32 lead into the break.

The third quarter saw similarly intense pressure from Penn on the Wildcats' ball handlers. However, the Quakers themselves were sloppy on the offensive end of the ball. Villanova took advantage of four Penn turnovers in four minutes to tie the game up at 40 midway through the third. 

Credit: Gary Lin

Senior guard Kendall Grasela

Shortly after, an and-one opportunity by senior forward Mary Gedaka gave the home side a 43-42 lead — its first since the 2:09 mark of the first quarter. Overall, it was a disappointing quarter for the Quakers’ offense, which had as many points as turnovers (six), and was outscored by Siegrist alone, who had seven in the quarter.

Penn’s offensive slump continued into the final quarter. This was best highlighted in a possession where senior guard Phoebe Sterba missed a three-point attempt, grabbed her own rebound but missed the put-back, grabbed another board and found junior guard Michae Jones outside the perimeter, whose three-point effort was yet again in vain.

Although the shots were not falling, Penn did not exactly make up for it on the defensive end, as Villanova built up a 13-point lead with 5:10 to go. Padilla stepped up to try and will the Quakers back into the game, scoring 10 of Penn’s 14 points in the quarter, but her efforts were stymied by superb low-post play by Gedaka, who chipped in with 11 points in the fourth. Ultimately, the comeback effort was not enough and the Wildcats came away with the 12-point win.

Besides the game, the freshman battle was also won by Villanova. Siegrist showed off her all-round ability with 27 points, six rebounds, and three assists. She also chipped in with two steals and two blocks. Padilla, playing all but one minute of the game, poured in 23 points.

The Quakers have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since the 2017-18 season. However, they will look to bounce back during next Thursday’s final Big 5 matchup against Temple, knowing that a win will give them a share of the Big 5 title. 

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