Three up, three down.
Less than a week into Ivy play, Penn women’s basketball has now extended its winning streak to nine straight with a pair of wins against Cornell and Columbia at the Palestra over the weekend. The Quakers are red hot, winning all four games held over winter break.
Throughout the weekend, Penn relied on star senior guard Kayla Padilla, and she rose to the occasion. But that’s where the similarities between the two matches ended.
Cornell (8-8, 1-2 Ivy) has been around the middle of the Ivy League all season. But Columbia (13-3, 2-1) has been dominant and came into Saturday’s matchup riding a 10-game winning streak.
"They’re older, they’re skilled, they’re athletic,” Coach Mike McLaughlin said of Columbia. He added that he “was not surprised at all” by their success so far this season.
And just as the two opponents differed, so did the games. On Friday night, Penn led comfortably, not trailing in the final three quarters and eventually defeating Cornell 62-54. But in Saturday’s contest, the Quakers trailed for over 30 minutes and had to overcome Columbia in the final minutes of their 71-67 victory.
On Friday night, Padilla dominated from start to finish. She scored nearly half of the Quakers’ 62 points, on an incredibly efficient 8-14 from the floor. Padilla was also perfect from the free throw line, making all eight shots from the charity stripes. When the night was over, she had 27 points – nearly twice as many as any other player from either team.
But Padilla’s impact was felt beyond just scoring, as she grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists.
While Padilla’s scoring might stand out the most, she certainly wasn’t the only Quaker who made an impact against the Big Red. Jordan Obi grabbed 15 rebounds and forced four turnovers, while only sitting for one minute of game time.
“I feel like everyone knows that Jordan has been an absolute force on the offensive side who can score from inside and from three,” Padilla said of her teammate. “But I think in these past few Ivy games she has showed that she’s an absolute monster on the boards.”
Penn was also able to capitalize on a sluggish offensive night from the Big Red. Despite generating eight more turnovers than Penn, Cornell shot 1-17 from deep, and ended the night below 35% on all field goals.
Following her performance on Friday, Padilla was honored before Saturday’s match against Columbia. Pregame, Penn President Liz Magill, Athletic Director Alanna Shanahan, and Coach Mike McLaughlin presented Padilla with the ball from her Dec. 11 match against Temple, when she became the 24th Quaker to reach 1,000 career points.
Miscues were an issue for Penn on Saturday, and Columbia capitalized on them this time. In the first quarter alone, the Quakers turned the ball over six times, leading to 11 points for the Lions. Penn didn’t score following either of Columbia’s two first-quarter turnovers.
Some of these giveaways were due to Columbia's game plan. Full-court pressure prevented Mandy McGurk from bringing up the ball on many possessions, forcing Penn to rely on others for ball handling duties. But there were still many which were preventable.
But when Penn could get off shots, the team was hitting them. The Quakers shot 54% from the field, and hit 4 of 10 three pointers in the first half. And this was enough to keep it a one-point game by halftime. Padilla and Obi, Penn’s leading scorers so far this season, had 10 and 11 points, respectively.
In the second half, Columbia was able to jump out to a seven-point lead early, and held it for most of the third quarter. But to end that period, Padilla led the Quakers on a 13-3 scoring run, giving the Quakers a one-point advantage with 10 minutes left to play.
Early in the fourth period, Penn appeared poised to pull away, jumping out to a five-point lead in the first few minutes. But, again, mistakes reared their ugly head when Penn only made two of its first seven free throws in the fourth quarter. With under three minutes left to play, Columbia led by four.
But it was at this point, with the stakes the highest, that Padilla and Obi’s performances were the brightest. Padilla drove to the basket, nailing a layup through contact and finishing the three-point play on the ensuing free throw. And on the next possession, after bringing down a rebound, Obi made both free throws after being fouled, giving Penn the lead with under a minute left.
In the match’s closing seconds, it was Obi, who ended the night as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points, even with the most pressure on her. She delivered repeatedly, bringing down rebounds and hitting free throws to eventually seal the Quaker’s four-point lead.
“I think Jordan doesn’t really need to be told … she knows internally what she needs to do [to win],” Padilla said. “At the end of the day she knows she needs to get the job done and there was no one stopping her.”
In the clutch, Penn came up big on offense, but perhaps even bigger on defense. The Quakers finished the game on an 8-0 scoring run, and Columbia made just two of its last 15 field goal attempts. On one of Columbia’s final possessions, junior Floor Toonders blocked a shot which would have tied the game.
“Today I focused really well on staying inside the paint mostly and guarding the basket,” Toonders said. “So I was able to step up this time and block a shot.”
McLaughlin spoke highly of Toonders’ performance, especially complementing her conditioning throughout this weekend’s back-to-back games.
The Quakers will next be in action Tuesday night against Hartford, in their final non-conference game of the season. The game is at the Palestra at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on ESPN+.