LOS ANGELES — Visiting the Galen Center for the first time in program history, the Quakers made it their house for much of the first half. But in a performance strikingly similar to Monday’s in San Francisco, Penn’s attack was stymied in the second half.
On Wednesday afternoon, Penn women’s basketball fell to the University of Southern California 66-60. Tying her career high — which was set on Monday — in her first career start, freshman guard Simone Sawyer recorded 18 points with four three-pointers.
The Quakers drop to a 1-5 start on the season, while USC improves to 5-0, with neither squad having begun conference play yet. Penn is also now 0-4 all-time against Pac-12 opponents, with previous losses coming against California, Stanford, and the University of Washington.
For much of the first half, the game was a defensive struggle. Through 10 minutes, the two teams had combined for 22 points, while shooting a collective 9-33 from the field. But the Quakers took advantage of the opportunities USC’s defense provided them. Junior forward Floor Toonders drilled a pair of threes, and senior guard Mandy McGurk followed through on her own steal with a layup at the rim.
However, as the second quarter began, Penn took command of the game. In just over a minute, the Quakers had scored seven straight points and jumped out to a 19-10 lead. While USC tied the game late in the period, and ultimately took a one-point lead into halftime, the Trojans were forced to spend much of the second quarter playing catch-up with Penn’s offensive spurt.
Something that made this first-half performance especially impressive was that Penn did it with senior guard Kayla Padilla having a cold shooting night for much of the first half. Her first field goal came with just over a minute left in the second quarter.
Despite the slow start from the field, Padilla found other ways to make an impact, notching four rebounds and four assists in the first half, en route to a final stat line of 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists. With roughly 200 supporters in the stands, whenever she impressed, her actions found a warm reception in the crowd.
Padilla hails from nearby Torrance, Calif. and attended Bishop Montgomery High School. Several of her supporters wore special hoodies emblazoned with the number 45 in the colors of the Filipino flag, signifying her heritage.
One of the key changes in the Trojan game plan responsible for this comeback was picking up Penn full court, while the Quakers seemed more willing to stay set in their half-court defense.
“I think we handled the ball really well through it,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “[But] they did disrupt us getting in our sets and in the half court we were affected a little bit.”
As the third quarter progressed, USC continued with the momentum that it sparked at the end of the first half, outscoring the Quakers 18-13. With 10 minutes remaining in the contest, the Trojans led Penn 52-46. It was during this final period where USC’s advantage on the glass, especially on the offensive end, was clearest.
In the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, hope seemed lost for Penn, with USC scoring the period’s first four points to take a 10-point lead — the largest for either squad thus far.
Several times, especially when Toonders was on the bench for an extended spell in the second half, the Trojans could repeatedly snag their own missed shots for new opportunities, often with 20 more seconds on the shot clock. Throughout the game, USC scored 21 second-chance points, compared to just the Quakers’ five.
Even with this deficit, the Quakers kept the game close, drawing within five on multiple occasions. But in the end, the Red and Blue were unable to regain the lead.
Despite the final score, McLaughlin is still impressed with how the team performed.
“I think we competed at the highest level possible,” McLaughlin said. “You don’t play to have a moral victory, but when you play against a foe like this, you have to perform on a big stage like this and I think they did.”
Penn women's basketball faces another opponent on the road next at La Salle at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 29 before a series of 10 straight games at the Palestra.