Penn women’s basketball may have already clinched a spot in Ivy Madness, but it still has work to do in the final week of its regular season.
“We might have to play a little bit different down the stretch than we have all year,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Trying to see if there’s certain areas of the game, [especially] on the offensive side, that we can tweak [those areas] so that we’re clean with it. But I want them to go into [this week] and really start getting themselves back in a good flow so that we’re peaking at our best heading into the Ivy playoffs.”
The Red and Blue (18-7, 8-4 Ivy) will get the chance to do just that in a challenging road trip to Cornell (10-14, 3-9) and Columbia (17-8, 8-4) this weekend.
Penn had an easy time with Cornell earlier on in the season, beating them 63-41 at the Palestra. The Quakers used a strong first quarter, in which they outscored the Big Red 24-10, to run away with the game.
However, Penn must be aware of the threat posed by Cornell’s forward duo of seniors Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Samantha Widmann. Both feature in the League’s top 10 in points and rebounds per game, and can be unstoppable in the paint at times. Contain them, and the Red and Blue have a great chance at extending their current seven-game win streak against the Big Red.
On the other hand, Columbia will prove to be a more formidable opponent for the Quakers. The winner of this game will likely gain sole possession of the second seed, which the teams currently share. The last time both sides met, the Quakers had to work hard to grind out a 86-84 victory over the Lions in overtime.
One of the Lions’ biggest threats comes from their long-range ability, as they rank second amongst Ivy teams in both three-point percentage (34.3%) and three-pointers per game (7.7). Penn therefore has to effectively utilize its length to contest shots along the perimeter in order to shut down Columbia’s three point threat.
In particular, the Quakers must figure out a way to limit the offensive output of Columbia ace Abbey Hsu. In the reverse fixture last month, Hsu torched the Quakers with 28 points on 11-17 shooting, including six three-pointers. The Quaker guard trio of Kendall Grasela, Kayla Padilla, and Michae Jones took turns guarding Hsu, with mixed effects. If Hsu continues to dominate on the offensive end, the Red and Blue may have to double up on her or even defend her along the full length of the court, in order to throw her off her game.
For the Quakers themselves, one major thing to work on before the playoffs is to construct a more consistent offense. Junior center Eleah Parker had a 24-point game against Brown, but that was preceded by four-point and two-point performances in losses to Yale and Princeton, respectively. McLaughlin must figure out a way to utilize Parker’s strengths more prominently against high-octane defenses, such that the Quakers will not fall into long offensive slumps and watch the game slip out of their hands.
Although the final four have already been decided, there is still more to play for this week, and Penn will have to bring its A-game to the floor if it wants to avoid a first-round matchup against the defending champions, No. 21 Princeton.