Penn women’s basketball’s matchup against La Salle was a messy, messy contest.
With the majority of Penn’s usual starters once again out due to suspensions, the Quakers dropped their second Big 5 game of the season to the Explorers, 63-49.
After an early steal on the first play of the game, senior guard Mia Lakstigala was fouled in transition and scored on both free throws. The play foreshadowed much of the first quarter, which saw very little scoring and a great deal of turnovers.
Though Penn (4-3) dominated the Explorers (4-3) in chances and offensive boards, they were unable to convert on offense. The score stood 4-2 in favor of Penn with all four of Penn’s points scored through free throws, until La Salle guard Claire Jacobs then hit two consecutive three-pointers to put the Explorers up 8-4.
The flow of the game — generally strong defense, followed by turnovers or messy offense — was exemplified by two plays late in the first. With three minutes remaining, junior guard Sydnei Caldwell stole the ball, but freshman guard Lizzy Groetsch was unable to convert on a layup. And with two minutes remaining, Groetsch managed to steal the ball from La Salle’s Jaye Haynes, but then lost it again to Haynes.
La Salle’s Kenya Côté-Lysius struck back with a buzzer beater three to put La Salle up 12-11 at the end of the first.
“I didn’t think we had any fluidity to us on the offensive side,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We held the ball too long. We did not move the ball. We didn’t cleanly reverse it. Give La Salle credit, because they guarded us pretty well, but there was some poor offensive play in this game.”
The second quarter continued in much the same manner, albeit with La Salle coach Mountain MacGillivray flashing both five-person substitutions and varied shouting postures. Neither team got on a scoring run, and the teams racked up 27 turnovers total around halfway through the quarter.
Penn has struggled to defend against three-pointers so far this season, and their struggles continued, as La Salle hit two threes to pull ahead 22-18.
Sophomore forward Jordan Obi picked up some production after a slow first, with eight points in the second quarter and the last Penn score of the half, where Penn led 28-26. Lakstigala continued to make up half of Penn’s offense.
“[Lakstigala] made some shots. She was really our only offensive threat out there today,” McLaughlin said. “She had opportunities she left out on the floor … but she competed, and statistically, she certainly helped us.”
In the third quarter, Penn was able to grow its lead despite some offensive struggles, thanks to La Salle turnovers.
Junior guard Mandy McGurk scored her first points of the game by stealing the ball from Côté-Lysius, resulting in an easy layup without another player within six feet of her. After Lakstigala scored a three-pointer, McGurk replicated the move, this time against La Salle’s Molly Masciantonio.
“Mandy’s going to give you everything out there. Everything she has — she’s going to give [it] to you on the floor,” McLaughlin said. “When you get a girl like Mandy taking 15 shots … you know she was trying to make up for some lack of offense in other areas.”
At one point, Penn was able to amass a nine-point lead. The referee saved a cameraman’s life by catching the basketball before it could hit him in the head, and thus ended what would ultimately be Penn’s best quarter.
La Salle hit two straight three-pointers and tied the game at 45-45 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. From there, the Quakers were unable to recover, with turnovers and foul trouble biting them hard. After La Salle went on a 14-0 run, going up 53-45, there was a scoreless stretch reminiscent of the first quarter, where neither team could get much going, until Obi hit two free throws to break the streak.
The only time Penn would score following Obi’s free throws would be off a jumper by Groetsch. The game ended 63-49, with the Quakers suffering one of their worst-fought losses of the season so far.
Hoping to bounce back, the Quakers will face Bucknell in Lewisburg, Pa. on Dec. 3.