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Senior guard Kendall Grasela was the only player on either team to play all 40 minutes in the win against Columbia on Saturday night.

Credit: Chase Sutton

With a commanding defensive performance against Columbia, Penn women's basketball played like a team that could reach the Ivy League Tournament final this upcoming Saturday night.

The last time these two teams met, the Quakers eked out a victory in a close 86-84 overtime game against Columbia with a strong offensive performance. But on Saturday night, the Red and Blue (20-7, 10-4 Ivy) showcased focus on defense and constant effort on both ends of the floor to extend their winning streak against the Lions (17-10, 8-6) to 18 games in a 51-36 win.

Playing to determine the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds heading into Ivy Madness, the Quakers calmly took care of business to finish off their regular season.

“The keys tonight were to really push the ball in transition, and we did a really good job keeping the ball in front of us,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “That was the main goal for us defensively.”

Senior guard Phoebe Sterba hit two quick three-pointers to get the Quakers out to an early lead, 12-6. Junior center Eleah Parker continued to thrive off the glass, with five offensive rebounds and six rebounds total, allowing the Quakers to control the flow of the first quarter. The Red and Blue also captured three steals and committed zero turnovers in an efficient and fundamental first quarter. 

Opening the second quarter, Penn rode an early 6-1 run to jump out to a 26-15 advantage, and they never relinquished their lead from then on. Sterba then added her third three-pointer of the game to lead the team with nine points at the break. The veteran is now just 13 three-pointers shy of the program record.

Credit: Son Nguyen

After a quiet first quarter, freshman guard Kayla Padilla piled on six straight points to help Penn to a commanding 35-21 lead by halftime. 

The Lions were unable to change the tide of the game, as Penn, fueled by Parker’s five blocks and 12 rebounds through the third, kept up its tough defense and only allowed four points from the opposition in the quarter.

Though Penn was limited in scoring as well, the Red and Blue firmly controlled the pace through the entire game. Sophomore guard Mia Lakstigala hit a triple to cap off an efficient nine-point night on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, and put the game out of reach for Columbia.

“Being able to impact the game in other ways [besides scoring] was really important,” Parker said. “It just brings energy to the team, with rebounds, blocks, defense. It’s something that really gets us going.”

Parker finished the game with seven blocks, tying her career high. She also leads the Ivy in blocks with an average of 2.5 per game. She and her team will hope to replicate this strong defensive showing next weekend.

“They’ve worked really really hard and sacrificed themselves,” McLaughlin said. “Tonight and tomorrow is a full stop of just being proud of what we’ve accomplished.” 

Looking ahead to the start of the postseason next weekend, the Red and Blue will be facing third-seeded Yale in the first round of Ivy Madness next Friday. 

They will look to break the season tie against the Bulldogs, as they split games in the regular season, with the visitor winning each time. Should Penn defeat the Elis, the women would advance to face the winner between No. 1 seed Princeton or the No. 4 seed Lions.

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