It wasn't easy by any means, but Penn women's basketball earned a big W in its return to the Palestra.
Led by junior center Eleah Parker's double-double, the Red and Blue hung on Friday night to defeat Columbia in overtime by a score of 86-84.
In the team's first home game in nearly a month, Parker paced the Quakers (12-5, 2-2 Ivy) with a season-high 28 points, adding 13 boards. Freshman guard Kayla Padilla also had a big night, with 22 points of her own and a team-high three makes from distance.
"Both teams executed really well at critical times, particularly our group. I was really proud of them," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "We spent a lot of time this week on certain parts of the game, and they were confident when that happened."
Columbia star freshman Abbey Hsu led a valiant effort to keep the Lions (11-7, 2-3) constantly within striking distance, matching Parker's total of 28 points and going 6-of-9 from deep. Sophomore Sienna Durr also had a strong outing, posting 16 points and 15 rebounds for the visitors.
The two teams were never separated by more than 10 points, and both picked up steam as the game went on. After a back-and-forth first 20 minutes, Penn took an eight-point lead into the half at 37-29.
Parker just missed out on a career-high in points, but Friday night was special for her in another way. Midway through the third quarter, the junior eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her career, becoming just the 23rd player in program history to do so.
"It's funny because Coach was getting on me in the timeout and then I heard it in the background and I was like 'Wow,' but it's amazing and I feel honored to be a part of the group that's reached that milestone," Parker said.
Ignoring the fanfare, Columbia stayed focused on the game and steadily trimmed the lead behind 11 third-quarter points from Hsu. The Lions then exploded for 25 points in the fourth quarter to fully eliminate the deficit.
Every time the Quakers rallied and came up with a clutch play down the wire, the visitors would have an response. A pair of late Parker and-one layups were coolly answered with sharp jumpers from the Lions, and the teams could not be separated after 40 minutes of play, heading into overtime tied at 75 all.
But a solid extra five minutes from the Red and Blue, combined with Hsu fouling out, was enough for Penn to pick up the victory by the slimmest of margins.
Padilla powered the Quakers in overtime, scoring eight of the team's 11 points post-regulation. When the pressure was dialed up, the rookie delivered.
"I think the team is built for these kinds of moments," Padilla said. "We went through a lot of adversity in January and I think we learned a lot of lessons and I think that really carried over to this game."
Overall, it was Penn's depth and clean play that allowed them to come out on top. In addition to Parker and Padilla — who combined for 50 of the Quakers' 86 points — junior forward Tori Crawford and senior guard Phoebe Sterba also reached double figures, adding 13 and 12 points, respectively.
None of the Red and Blue's players picked up more than three fouls, and having only 10 turnovers — compared to Columbia's 16 — may have made all the difference.
The Quakers don't have too much time to enjoy the exciting win, as they turn around to face Cornell Saturday night. With the other New York Ivy coming off a 60-29 loss to Princeton on Friday, Penn will look to keep the Big Red's offense to a minimum for the second straight night.
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