If you come at the king, you’d best not miss.
On Monday, Penn women’s basketball came into Jadwin Gymnasium to face a Princeton team that has ruled the Ivy League for quite some time. The Tigers have won three of the last four Ivy League titles, finished last season a perfect 14-0 in conference play, and nearly beat currently fifth-ranked UConn earlier this season. Coming into the campaign, Princeton received 15 out of 16 votes to win the conference.
But the Quakers had reason for hope, riding an 11-game winning streak and a 4-0 Ivy League record. This included a four-point win versus Columbia last week and a comfortable victory over Dartmouth on Saturday.
But on Monday, Penn’s hot streak came to an end as Princeton out-shot, out-rebounded, and overall dominated Penn in a 55-40 defeat for the Quakers, their first since Thanksgiving.
And while points are ultimately how the game is won, Princeton dominated in other categories as well. The Tigers notched 19 assists on 22 made field goals, showing much more ball movement than the Quakers, who only tallied five across 14 made field goals. On the boards, Princeton led 39-26, with over twice as many offensive rebounds as the Quakers. And despite only forcing three more turnovers, the Tigers’ ability to capitalize off their extra possessions was a significant factor, notching 18 points off turnovers to Penn’s three.
Penn’s offense has operated through Jordan Obi and Kayla Padilla all year long, and Monday was no exception. The pair combined for all 17 of the Quakers’ first-half points, with Padilla contributing 13 on 5-12 shooting.
Early on, this tactic was successful, with Padilla finding driving lanes and making multiple tough layups in the first quarter. But towards the end of the first half, the two seemed helpless against a Princeton defense selling out to defend them.
“They’re the focal point of what we do,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. But today, “there was too much pressure on both of them, and it was the first time in a while where we didn’t have balance.”
At the end of the first half, Penn went ice cold, failing to convert a field goal for the final 8:29 of the first half. In this time, Princeton went on a 14-2 run, which saw the Tigers’ lead, which was in single digits for most of the first half, balloon to 14 by the break.
McLaughlin acknowledged that this stretch was the turning point of Monday’s game, remarking that the team “went into the locker room limping a little bit.”
This strategy of attacking Padilla and Obi seemed to work given the pair’s ball dominance. The two took 20 of Penn’s 26 field goal attempts in the first half, and combined for a usage rate near 70% at halftime.
“We had opportunities to score [off turnovers], but they do a good job of transition defense,” McLaughlin said. “One of the things we want to do is not play in half court the entire time, [but] ultimately, that’s what happened.”
Coming out of the break, Penn was able to slow the bleeding. The Quakers shot 5-14 in the third quarter, below their season average of nearly 41% but certainly better than the second quarter’s 2-15. The second half also saw another Quaker get on the board, with senior guard Mandy McGurk scoring five points. Furthermore, Penn was able to grab three offensive rebounds and a trio of assists.
But despite this improvement, the Quakers were unable to make up any ground. The Tigers put the game largely out of reach with a 7-11 shooting performance in the third period, increasing their lead to 17 with 10 minutes left to play.
Even with the final outcome largely settled, Princeton kept their foot on the gas for most of the fourth quarter, with coach Carla Berube only making mass substitutions with a little over 90 seconds remaining. While the box score will show Penn narrowing the margin to 15 in the final period, the outcome was never truly in jeopardy.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Tigers had led for the final 34 minutes of the game. They dominated several major categories, including rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, and points off turnovers.
But despite the outcome on Monday, there remain reasons for hope. Penn still leads the Ivy League at 4-1, and Princeton will still need to visit the Palestra on March 3. But the facts of Monday’s defeat should still not be ignored.
The Quakers will next be in action Saturday, Jan. 21 against Yale at 2:00 p.m. The game will be held at the Palestra and broadcast on ESPN+ and NBC Sports Philadelphia.