The third quarter of any basketball game is often thought to be the most important. Coming out of the halftime break, it presents a chance to make a statement with a rested team going into the final quarter. The 73-9 Golden State Warriors in 2015-16 had the best third-quarter scoring margin in the last 20 years, leading them to the best record in NBA history.
In the Dec. 3 matchup against No. 23 Marquette (8-0), Penn women's basketball (5-3) looked like they needed Steph Curry and then some in the third. After entering the break trailing by a manageable 13 points, the Quakers started to fall apart, while the Golden Eagles kicked into a higher gear. Penn went scoreless for long stretches, and the quarter finished with a 32-9 spread in favor of Marquette, as they led by 36 entering the final period and ultimately won 87-52.
"I thought we really played a solid first half," head coach Mike McLaughlin said. "I think we played better than the score indicated … but we came out of the third quarter, and we just didn’t play well out of the gate. The first three minutes really separated us. [They scored] a couple of transition baskets, a couple of open threes, and that just knocked the wind out of us a little bit.”
While the third was when the game went from a loss against a ranked opponent to a memorably bad defeat, the Quakers looked like the worse team throughout. Penn was overmatched in every facet of the game, finishing the game with 20 turnovers compared to just seven assists, along with shooting 3-17 from three and allowing three Golden Eagles to top 17 points.
The Quaker offense was powered by freshman guard Mataya Gayle and senior forward Jordan Obi, both of whom put together solid performances. Gayle finished with 23 points as the game’s leading scorer and added three steals, while Obi scored 17 with five rebounds and three blocks. The remainder of the Penn lineup was almost invisible offensively. In the 87-52 loss, only 12 points were scored outside of the 40 that Gayle and Obi combined for.
Junior guard Stina Almqvist had been the team’s offensive leader so far this season, averaging 19.7 points per game and seven rebounds per game. Marquette seemed to focus on Almqvist from the start, sending frequent double teams and drawing several offensive fouls, leading to four turnovers. After over three scoreless quarters, Almqvist finally scored her first and only points with 5:15 left in the game on a layup. She finished the game 1-9 from the field, with two points, five rebounds, and four assists.
"I think she missed a couple makeable baskets early in the game, and from that point on, I thought she tried to make a perfect basket instead of just letting the game flow with her," McLaughlin said. "She had incredible success in the first five, six, seven games here. Their big time, big kids, strong … took away her sweet spots, and she's just got to respond better next time."
The defensive struggles for Penn came in every area of the court, from beyond the arc to under the rim. Marquette’s sophomore guard Mackenzie Hare lit up the Quakers from deep, going 5-6 and finishing with 19 points. On the inside, senior forward Frannie Hottinger dominated the paint, scoring 20 to lead the Golden Eagles on 9-14 shooting. Penn’s 19 personal fouls also helped Marquette to 17 free throw attempts, compared to only 12 for the Quakers.
Despite the loss, Gayle’s performance was a massive bright spot and is encouraging for the stretch ahead for this team. Once again acting as the primary ball handler, the freshman guard followed up a strong 18-point performance against La Salle with her 23 against Marquette, bringing her average up to 14.3 points per game on the year.
"She was really good. Obviously, against a top 25 team … she was able to make shots and create her own shots," McLaughlin said. "When things broke down, she was able to get to the basket and make the play. I thought in that environment, against that level of competition, I thought Mataya was special today."
The Quakers will look to bounce back in a Big 5 matchup at Villanova on Tuesday, Dec. 5, as they enter the final few weeks of their non-conference season.