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Freshman guard Mataya Gayle during Penn women's basketball's game against St. Joseph's on Nov. 14. Credit: Chenyao Liu

Coming off a rough loss to Saint Joseph's, Penn women's basketball got its chance at redemption Sunday against Siena, ultimately coming away with an 85-79 win.

The game kicked off with the Saints (2-1) dominating the Quakers (2-1), taking a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes, which featured two blocks by junior forward Anajah Brown. Trailing by seven, the Quakers implemented a full-court press, which paid off with a steal from junior guard Stina Almqvist and a swished three-pointer by freshman guard Mataya Gayle ignited a 12-point run within two minutes. As the first quarter closed, Gayle, with 10 points, set a promising tone for an exciting second quarter.

In the second quarter, Gayle continued her hot streak, scoring eight more points and maintaining a perfect three-point shooting record. However, offensive challenges for the rest of the team allowed the Saints to trim the lead to just four. Amidst team-wide struggles, the Quakers leaned on the dynamic duo of Almqvist and Gayle, who combined for an impressive 32 out of 39 total points in the first half. Heading into the second half, the Quakers held a nine-point advantage, having held the Saints to just 15 points in each of the first two quarters.

In this first half, Penn shot 47% from the field, and 50% from behind the arc, led by Gayle's 4-4 shooting from deep in the first half. Aside from Almqvist and Gayle’s offensive brilliance, senior forward Jordan Obi struggled to find her rhythm, going 0-8 from the field in the first half. 

“Mataya was about as good as anyone could be regardless, let alone a freshman," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "She had 20 points in the first half, [scored from the field] eight out of nine [times], she made contested shots, guarded shots, layups, threes; she just absolutely carried us. She played really great.”

At the start of the second half, the Red and Blue struggled offensively, allowing Siena to capitalize and go on a 16-2 run where the Quakers' offense became largely ineffective, shooting an abysmal 11% from three, and passing struggles emerged, with Gayle contributing to three turnovers. This sharp decline resulted in a turnaround from a nine-point halftime lead to trailing by three points entering the fourth quarter.

Despite facing challenges in the passing game, the Quakers discover their scoring rhythm as Gayle and Obi hit their stride. This impressive offensive stretch allowed them to narrow the deficit.

“Mataya popped off in the first half, Jordan [Obi] was super strong in the third quarter, so it was definitely just a team effort for everyone, and it was just a great win for us,” Almqvist said. 

The Quakers carried this momentum into the final quarter, as freshman guard Abby Sharpe showcased her prowess by nailing consecutive three-pointers, the second of which resulted in a four-point play. Junior guard Lizzy Groetsch joined the scoring spree with a three-pointer of her own. Having overcome their earlier struggles, the Quakers seamlessly executed a cohesive style of play, sparking a noteworthy 14-4 run that transformed their deficit into a commanding seven-point advantage. 

“This was a big period. I think Stina made a couple of tough baskets, Lizzy got a couple of offensive rebounds, [and] we needed that, we were down, and picked up the energy and took control,” McLaughlin said.

During this impressive stretch, with Gayle temporarily on the bench, Sharpe assumed a pivotal role in the fourth quarter, facilitating the offense and showcasing her remarkable accuracy, going 3-3 from beyond the arc. This stellar performance propelled the Quakers to an eight-point lead before the return of Gayle to the game.

“When Abbey Sharpe came, we needed someone to spread the floor and be able to make a three, and she did that," McLaughlin said. "She was in during crunch time, and she was absolutely great, let alone a freshman, but just awesome overall.”

But down the stretch, in the final two minutes, it was Almqvist in control as she scored six crucial points, bringing her total to a career-high 25 points and playing a pivotal role in helping the Quakers secure the victory. 

“She has been the most consistent player from start to finish," McLaughlin said of Almqvist. "She is scoring the ball at a really high level, in all different ways, attacking the basket, making a few threes — she has scored every way possible, [and] rebounds at a really high level through the first few games.”  

Next up, Penn will head out west to play a trio of California schools during Thanksgiving week, starting with Chapman at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday.