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11-22-2021-wbb-versus-villanova-stina-almqvist-julia-van-lare
Freshman Stina Almqvist shoots the ball during the game against Villanova at the Palestra on Nov. 22. Credit: Julia Van Lare

So close, but not enough. 

On Monday night, Penn women’s basketball saw its three-game winning streak come to an end with a 66-63 loss against the Villanova Wildcats at the Palestra. This loss marks the Quakers' first in Big 5 play. 

Penn (3-1) came out strong, with sophomore forward Jordan Obi winning the opening tip, and the Quakers quickly converted with a great hook shot from junior forward Silke Milliman. Villanova (2-2) wouldn’t go away easily though, sinking a three-pointer less than a minute later. 

Notably, junior guard Kayla Padilla and senior guard Nikola Kovacikova were both inactive in the game, with many younger players getting extended playing time.

“I couldn't be more proud of what they did out here tonight. And I hope it's a carrier. Hopefully, this is something that they can learn from the situation again, and rise to the occasion next time as well,” coach Mike McLaughlin said.

The first quarter continued to be a back-and-forth physical game. The largest deficit for the Quakers came with three minutes left in the quarter, when the Wildcats made an easy layup to make it 13-7. The Red and Blue came up big in the final two minutes with two great defensive stops by junior guard Mandy McGurk and freshman guard Lizzy Groetsch. 

With 43 seconds left in the quarter, after an amazing drive inside, Groetsch drew a foul that gave Penn the ability to tie the game at 13-13 to close out the first quarter. 

The second quarter appeared to be much of the same, with a back-and-forth game that knotted at 33-33 going into halftime. 

At halftime, Obi lead the Quakers with 14 points, and Penn as a team was shooting for 50%. 

Coming into the start of the second half, the Wildcats came out firing early, getting to a 41-33 lead less than three minutes in. Penn would come back with great defense and shooting, to go on a six-point run. Sophomore guard Michaela Stanfield contributed four points off of great driving layups to make it 41-37. 

Towards the end of the quarter, the Wildcats came alive, increasing Penn's deficit to 51-42. McGurk converted on a huge driving layup to cut Villanova's lead to seven. On the very next play, McGurk came up with a steal and passed it to a speedy Stanfield. The sophomore went up for a layup, but was called for a controversial offensive foul to keep the game at 51-44 going into the fourth quarter. 

It didn’t look good for the Red and Blue early in the fourth quarter, going down by as many as 12 only four minutes into the quarter. Obi and McGurk would come up big making a combined 15 points in the fourth quarter alone. 

With 6 minutes left, Obi was fouled inside but was still able to convert the basket, giving the Red and Blue a one-and-one situation to cut the lead down to single digits. Obi missed the free throw after hitting the backboard, but an amazing diving play by Grotesch kept the ball with Quakers, and the Red and Blue were able to make the easy layup. 

On the next two offensive plays, McGurk would join the party, hitting two jump shots that electrified the Palestra and cut Villanova's lead down to six with less than five minutes left. Later on, with two minutes left, McGurk was able to hit a clutch layup that cut the deficit to two, but it would not last long, as Villanova would hit a wide-open three from the top of the key to make it 60-65 with a minute and a half left in the game.

“I told Mandy, she single-handedly made this place come to life," McLaughlin said. "She struggled early. She made a big shot and once she made a basket, she made a running layup and started to really find her way. For her to be in this environment and succeed like that, is pretty impressive."

Neither team would be able to find the basket for the next minute, until Obi sank a three-pointer to make it a two-point game with 23 seconds left. 

“Coach Mike said, 'Set a flat ball screen for Lizzy.' I set one and I popped to the three-point line and she saw me, and I just shot it,” Obi said. 

That is as close as it would get before Villanova would come away with victory by a three-point margin. 

“I think we played one of the best games we have had in the first four. I’m happy with how we played, our defense was good, our energy was good, our communication was good. So hopefully we can keep it going to the next game,” Obi said. 

The Quakers will look to get back to their winning ways on Nov. 26 when they take on UC San Diego in Los Angeles.

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