Seasons are described as marathons for competing teams. They are long and grueling campaigns that test your toughness — mentally and physically. If this analogy is true, Penn women’s basketball finds itself staring at its very own crimson red 15 mile marker in the form of Harvard.
In the first of two encounters against the Harvard Crimson this season, Penn women's basketball faced a challenging opponent, resulting in a 69-56 defeat. Penn's record now stands at 2-2 in the Ivy League and 10-7 overall, while Harvard advances to 3-1 in league play, also holding a 10-7 overall record.
The game began with a slow pace from both teams. Penn freshman guard Mataya Gayle quickly became the focal point for Penn, scoring the team's first eight points. Despite her efforts, Harvard took an early lead with several successive three-pointers. In the first quarter's final moments, Penn gained momentum with a 6-0 run, sparked by Penn senior forward Obi's consecutive layups and solid defensive play. The quarter ended in a 14-14 tie after an impressive buzzer-beating layup from Penn freshman guard Ese Ogbevire's.
“Jordan was one of the best players on the floor today,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “For 40 minutes she played really well. Lots of physicality, rebounds, blocks. Everything she does well day in and day out.”
The second quarter saw Harvard initially taking the lead, but Gayle's response kept the game tight. Penn's defense led to several Harvard turnovers. Penn sophomore point guard Saniah Caldwell's entry into the game added energy to Penn, leading to the team tying the game at 19-19. Obi then narrowed the gap to one point with a three-pointer, leading to a back-and-forth half that concluded with Harvard ahead 28-24.
“Hit good shots in the first half, but we didn’t do enough,” Mike McLaughlin said. “There were periods where we played really well, but we got too comfortable”
Gayle started the second half strong, but Harvard dominated the third quarter's first half with a 12-2 run. The Quakers, however, narrowed the gap to six points by the end of the quarter, thanks to an Obi three-pointer. In the final quarter, Penn closed the gap to four points, but Harvard extended its lead and eventually won the game despite Penn's persistent efforts.
“We are going to see everyone twice; just keep growing. We made a lot of strides, just got to clean up a lot of things,’ McLaughlin said. “When we play together we are really effective. Talent in the league is really good, but we see everyone twice a year.”
Penn allowed Harvard junior Harmoni Turner and sophomore Katie Krupa to both put up over 25 points on shots from all over the court, and got out rebounded by 10 boards overall. While close for most of the match, the team seemingly lacked a certain energy late in the game that they’ll need to finish off opponents in the future.
The loss marks a decisive moment in the season with the team officially falling to 2-2 in conference play during a season where every match matters. Thankfully, they don’t measure you on just one leg of the race in the Ivy League. Despite the stumble, the Quakers will have plenty of chances to prove their ability as they face down the tough road ahead.
With plenty of games left on the schedule, Penn looks forward to a four game homestretch ending with the indomitable Princeton. Fighting off the urge to look ahead, the Quakers are forced to turn their attention towards Columbia as they kick off the home streak in the Palestra at 2 p.m. next Saturday.