What looked to be a secure victory for Penn women’s basketball turned into a surprising loss at the Palestra on Saturday.
Penn (7-11, 2-4 Ivy) blew a lead of 14 and lost by seven to the Harvard Crimson (10-9, 4-3), bringing the final score to 70-63.
This was the 88th match between the Quakers and the Crimson. Even after the win, Harvard still leads the all-time series 52-35, although Penn has gone 22-21 with a home-court advantage at the Palestra. In their last meeting, the Red and Blue defeated the Crimson, 70-48, so all eyes were on another victory for Penn, which was what it looked like would happen in the first three quarters of the game.
Defense was key in Saturday's game and both teams were on it in the first quarter. On the offensive side, shooting wasn’t strong, as Penn was effective at generating good passes but not at converting them. Guard Kayla Padilla was playing hard right from the jump, scoring 11 of 13 points before sitting out temporarily for a nose injury.
Forward Jordan Obi came in and scored the last two points, bringing Penn’s total for the first quarter to 13. Additionally, Harvard was very slow in the shooting department with many missed jump shots and sloppy turnovers.
The Crimson eventually managed to rack up nine points with the help of guards McKenzie Forbes, Lola Mullaney, Tess Sussman, and Annie Stritzel.
During the second quarter, Penn’s defense was tight starting out with Padilla subbing back in. This development was good for the Quaker offense, as they seemed to take on a more rigid form when Padilla was on the court. This time, Penn was able to run the motions more effectively. Obi shined a lot more in this quarter as she nailed a nice bank-shot after taking advantage of an open spot in the first minute.
Harvard had also been shifting their focus to the inside and was playing much better than in the first quarter. The Crimson had nine offensive rebounds at that point, out-muscling Penn. Stritzel was then able to drain a three and break a two-minute scoring drought for the Crimson.
Penn also seemed to be leveraging its size in the paint. The Quakers were able to get a couple of layups and steals with help from second-quarter breakout star Mia Lakstigala, who came through with steals, and Obi, who scored nine points.
The first half ended 33-28 with the Quakers again in the lead. During the second quarter, an emphasis on the paint for Penn was crucial, as they had been making most of their shots from the inside, something head coach Mike McLaughlin took note of.
“I thought our passing has been as good as we’ve had them all year," coach Mike McLaughlin said. “In and out passing of the ball, penetrations, drop ins … I thought we had a lot of opportunities to enter the ball, and even when they started doubling Jordan [Obi], we responded well.”
In the third quarter, a strong inside passing game brought the Quakers to 37 points. Padilla and Obi were able to find each other for most of the quarter and continued their strong passing inside the paint.
Thanks to their strong offense and strong passes, the Red and Blue were able to take 12-point lead — the largest for the Quakers — putting the score at 40-28 in their favor.
Harvard answered back just as strongly and managed to cut this lead to just a seven point gap at the end of the quarter.
Unfortunately for the Quakers, once the fourth quarter came, everything went downhill. Penn started to struggle to execute on the offensive side of the ball. After a flurry of layups from Obi, Kennedy, and Padilla, racking Penn’s point total up to above 50, Harvard turned a switch and started making play after play. At first, Harvard had three straight turnovers in attempts to get the ball in the net, but a strong three from Maggie McCarthy brought the score to 53-49.
After a brief timeout, Harvard got a steal and scored an and-one basket to trim the gap to one. Obi hit a shot to make it 55-52, but Harvard, with the quick possession, cut the lead back to one again. It took three quarters, but Harvard managed to get its first lead after a three from Forbes brought the score to 57-55. Another bucket, this time from Sussman, widened the gap to 59-55.
A 7-0 run kept Harvard on top for most of the fourth quarter. McCartney made a basket off the glass, bringing the score to 61, followed by a Harvard steal and another layup made by Sussman. This transition was huge for Harvard, considering in the beginning of the game they shot 37% and went 8-28 shooting from the floor. In the final quarter, however, the Crimson doubled the Quakers' point total, 28-14.
A three from Lakstigala brought Penn’s point total to 60 and Harvard's lead to five with a minute and 29 seconds to play, but the Crimson followed with another basket off the glass. A foul on the next possession gave Forbes the opportunity to score two extra points, which she made. One last attempt for the Quakers to save their hopes came via a three-point shot from Padilla. Unfortunately for the Quakers, Harvard got the last laugh as it got to the line yet again, eventually defeating Penn 70-63.
Upon reflecting on the game, McLaughlin was disappointed in the results but was very proud of the players for their perseverance, especially in practice. He blamed their prolonged time on the court for their weaker efforts in the last quarter.
“Fatigue was a factor,” McLaughlin said. “We have girls playing far too many minutes I reckon, and I have to do better there. I need to find a way to rotate these kids in and out of the game.”
For the next game, McLaughlin is hoping to figure out exactly what went wrong so that they can improve on it next time they get on the court.
“We have to look at the reason why,'' McLaughlin said. "Is it strictly fatigue or something else? Whatever it is, we have to try and figure out what, so that next time we’re out there, we can handle the situation and they can run off the court [excited].”
This game is the first of three in the Palestra for the Quakers. With this loss, Penn must win its next couple of home games to move up in the conference standings and have a shot at making the Ivy tournament.