Following a three-game stint on the West Coast, Penn women’s basketball picked up right where it left off, pulling out a gritty win against La Salle in the team's return to the Palestra with a final score of 79-71 on Wednesday evening.
The Quakers (5-2) started the game red hot, taking a 7-0 lead against the Explorers (3-3) in the opening minute and a half of play. From there, it was a back and forth game for the rest of the first half, with four lead changes in the first quarter alone, and six lead changes total.
Graduate guard Makayla Miller got it going early for the Explorers with three quick buckets that kept La Salle tight with Penn after its initial run. The Quakers managed to hold on to a narrow three point lead at the end of the first quarter. However, despite finishing with 23 points, Miller and the rest of the La Salle team didn’t have enough to fend off the Red and Blue’s attack as they held their lead for the entirety of the second half.
Aside from Miller, the scoring for La Salle was well distributed with seven players etching their names in the score sheet, including 20 points from the bench.
For the Quakers, junior guard Stina Almqvist did it all, scoring 24 points — including 18 in the first half — while drawing six offensive fouls by La Salle on the defensive end. Almqvist also grabbed six rebounds and dished out two assists, continuing her dominance that has pleasantly surprised coach Mike McLaughlin.
“I’d be lying if I [told you] she was going to take this big of a step, but I did think that she looked more confident,” McLaughlin said.
While teams are aware of Almqvist’s ability to finish with her right hand, with La Salle coach Mountain MacGillivray noting that they knew she would always spin back to her right hand given the opportunity, the Explorers were powerless against her tonight.
Almqvist made light of this situation, saying, “I know people say that they should take off my right hand, but I love my right hand.”
Penn finished the first quarter shooting 66.7% from the field compared to La Salle’s 43.8%, but the Explorers scored a trio of three-pointers that kept them in the game. In the second quarter, these efficiencies actually flipped in favor of La Salle, but Penn’s 6-of-7 shooting from the charity stripe proved to be the difference as the Explorers failed to even attempt a free throw at all.
Almqvist was aided on offense by fellow junior guard Lizzy Groetsch — who notched 17 points and nine rebounds on 66.7% shooting — as well as freshman guard Mataya Gayle and senior forward Jordan Obi, who had 18 points each.
La Salle lived and ultimately died by the three-point shot on Wednesday, while the Red and Blue wanted little to do with anything beyond the arc. The Explorers took more than half of their field goal attempts from downtown, making 12 of 36 attempts that ultimately couldn’t bridge the scoring gap that the Quakers held during the second half. Conversely, Penn never got it going from three, shooting 25% on 12 attempts, but they didn’t need it as they feasted in the paint. The Quakers scored 56 of their 79 points from the inside.
As the game winded down, the Quakers looked confident and poised to secure the victory. Gayle hit a big second-chance three with 7:36 to play in the fourth, putting the Quakers up by nine — a margin they would mostly hold on to for the rest of the game.
Also notable was senior forward Floor Toonders making her season debut tonight for the Quakers after missing the previous six games due to a lower body injury. Though she only logged three minutes, her emergence in the lineup is certainly a welcome sight for the team as her workload will likely increase as she returns to full health.
“I just want to be fair to her,” McLaughlin said. “I want to get her on the floor because she’s worked really hard and I also want to put her in position to succeed, and she’s not quite there yet.”
Whenever Toonders is ready, the Quakers will be back to full strength and looking to fight for wins throughout their tough schedule this season. In the meantime, the team travels to Milwaukee to face off against No. 23 ranked Marquette on Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern Time.