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Penn guard Mataya Gayle evades Columbia's defense in a game on Jan. 27.

Credit: Weining Ding

After three weeks of Ivy League play, Penn women’s basketball found itself right where it started, preparing to face off against a deadly Abbey Hsu-led Columbia team. This time, the Lions made their way down to the Palestra, but the results stayed the same as the Quakers were humbled 85-55. 

The game could be summarized in one word: messy. 

Credit: Weining Ding

Penn women's basketball struggle over the ball against Columbia.

Penn (10-8, 2-3 Ivy) did a relatively good job defensively to start the game, but those efforts meant very little when the team struggled to generate any sort of momentum offensively. When playing a team like Columbia (13-5, 4-1 Ivy), there’s only so long that a defense can hold up, especially against the top scorer in the league. Late in the first quarter, Hsu, who claimed the Ivy League’s three-point record earlier this season, drained a three despite freshman guard Mataya Gayle doing everything right on defense. 

Hsu was held to just 14 points the first time the two teams faced off. This time around, she wasted no time in making sure that the Red and Blue were forced to acknowledge her as one of the best talents in the entire country. Hsu opened up the scoring of the game with a three-pointer and took off from there, finishing with a game-high 28 points along with 10 rebounds. Of those 28 points, 18 came off of six threes. 

“Seeing the ball going early, it just builds confidence,” said Hsu. “And I was kind of riding off of that. Did air ball on the next one, but that's ... the amazing thing about my teammates and coach ... so I just really give credit to the constant confidence being put in me by my teammates.”

The Red and Blue were left scrambling, trying to stymie both Hsu and junior Cecelia Collins on defense. Whenever the team seemed to lock up one, the other would take advantage. Collins finished the game with 22 points to nicely complement Hsu. The Lions came in as a well-oiled machine and it showed, as the Quakers were plagued by miscommunications as Columbia switched up its scheme. 

As the Lions continued to extend their lead, Penn's frustrations bubbled over. After being fouled on a layup, senior forward Jordan Obi spiked the ball in frustration, leading to unwanted attention from the referees who called her for a technical foul. Rushed shots and passes didn’t help the Quakers' case as they fell into an 18-point hole right out of the gate. In the opening quarter of play, Penn finished the opening quarter of play shooting an abysmal 3-17 from the field, putting up just seven points to Columbia’s 20. 

“We were getting shots I felt like but I just felt like a lot of things weren't falling all together as a team,” Gayle said. “So that could definitely be frustrating and sometimes we were trying to just do anything we could to get it going and it just didn't really go our way.”

After the first quarter, Penn seemed to finally wake up. But it was 10 minutes too late. The rest of the game was much more competitive but Columbia kept its foot on the pedal, all too wary of Penn’s ability to make unlikely comeback pushes after the two team’s first game of the season

Credit: Weining Ding

Penn guard Lizzy Groetsch handles the ball during a game versus Columbia on Jan. 27.

Despite the loss, Gayle has shown that she is going to be a problem for years to come in the league. She led the team with 21 points and consistently drew the attention of the Lion's defense. As the Quaker offense picked up steam, Columbia’s response was to have Hsu man-mark Gayle. Having the best player in the league guarding Gayle as just a freshman goes to show the impact that Gayle has on the Penn team and bodes well for the future of the Quakers. 

“[What] I've noticed the most about [Mataya Gayle] is not even her talent, it's just that she's hungry,” Columbia’s coach Megan Griffith said. “I can tell you, she really wants to be really good. Which I think is the number one thing you need to have before the skill. And if you have that, you can usually figure the rest of it out.”

With the Ivy League season well underway and Ivy Madness looming closer, the remaining games on the calendar have become more and more important. Getting swept by Columbia isn’t the end of the world but it does make the team’s path to the tournament much harder. The loss has also revealed many things that the team will need to work on if it hopes for a chance at the title. 

“They made open shots, they moved the ball to get scores from all over,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “So I want to first credit them for sure. But we just didn't play the way that we're going to need to do to try to play with a team at that level. You got to do the little things. You have to do it for 40 minutes. And just frankly, we didn't do it.”

The Quakers will return to the Palestra on Feb. 2 at 6 pm in the second of its four consecutive home games to take on Brown where the team will be looking to get its season back on track.