PHILADELPHIA, PA. 3/8/2014 – The University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team behind a second half comeback defeated the Big Red of Cornell 50 – 43 at the Palestra to remain in a tie for first place in the Ivy League. The Quakers will play Ivy League co-leader Princeton for the crown and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Penn team has been building towards the goal of a league championship and are excited to have the chance.
“We played them (Princeton) earlier in the year and they handled us really easy,” said Penn Coach Mike McLaughlin. “We didn’t play particularly well. We have the opportunity to play them again. But I don’t want to lose sight of what we have done in between. We gutted this one out and got what we wanted. To be in this position, and especially for these four seniors, to compete for an Ivy League championship is pretty special.”
“There is no better place to be right now, ” said senior forward Courtney Wilson. “Four years ago that was our goal, to get a banner. Hopefully, that will happen.”
Cornell was going to give Penn a fight. In the first half the Red and Blue shot 32.1% (9 of 28). The Big Red was just a little better making 35.7% (10 of 28) from the floor to take a 26 – 21 lead into the locker room. In the second half the fortunes for the Red and Blue turned around. The Quakers got the spread the floor and got the ball inside for easier shots by freshman forward Sydney Stipanovich, who scored a team-high 13 points with 9 coming in the second half, and junior forward Kara Bonenberger (9 points). Penn was 10 for 20 in the latter stanza. The Quakers scored 30 points in the paint, 18 of those points were scored in the second half.
On the other end of the floor the Red and Blue turned up the defense holding the Big Red to 6 of 34 from field. Trailing 33 – 31 at the 13:20 mark, the Red and Blue tied the game on a layup by freshman guard Melanie Lockett. The Quakers got the lead back on a steal and layup by junior guard Renee Busch. It was a lead they would not relinquish. Big Red forward Nia Marshall hit a jumper, two of her game-high tying 14 points, at 11:24 to cut the deficit to 36 – 35. Penn put the game away holding Cornell scoreless for almost the next ten minutes, scoring the next 13 points. The defense held until the offense came around for the Red and Blue
“I think that helped,” said McCullough who scored 6 points and handed out a team-high tying 5 assists. “We had a lot of pride in our defense this season. That always turns into offense and that’s what happened.”
Senior guard Alyssa Baron, the second leading scorer in school history was held to 5 points, but had a team-high 8 rebounds and 5 assists along with McCullough.
It was senior night at Penn. Prior to the game the four seniors were honored. The players were Kristen Kody (unable to play due to an injury), Courtney Wilson, Meghan McCullough, and Alyssa Baron. This class came to a team that had won 2 games their previous season. Over the next four years the Class of 2014 achieved many accomplishments. They have won 62 games to this point, and have clinched a post-season berth, being it in the NCAA or WNIT Tournament, for a second consecutive season. The 21 – 6 record represents the first time in program history that Penn registered back-to-back a 2o-win season. These seniors also recorded the first post-season win for the program last season. The players represented themselves and the school well, and earned the appreciation of their Coach Mike McLaughlin.
“It’s very chilling now,” McLaughlin said. “To try to get them to come here off a team that won two games. To ask them to do certain things that was going to take time and have bumps in the road. Now have that feeling to play for an Ivy League championship, I can’t put into words. It was all about what they (the players) did. It was about the buy-in, the culture they helped create. This is about them. They did the right thing and they will be rewarded by playing in a real special game.”
On Tuesday Penn will play for the ultimate league prize.
Written By: Glenn Papazian