PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1/24/2018 – It was this simple. The winner of this game would share the Big Five title with Villanova. The University of Pennsylvania visited McGonigle Hall to play last year’s champion the Temple Owls. The result? Penn takes a 74 – 59 decision over Temple behind a career night by junior guard Ashley Russell. It is the second city championship for the Quakers.
“This is something for them to remember,” said Penn Coach Mike McLaughlin. “There are signs at our facility with numbers. At Big Five it says one, the only time Penn won it. These guys were a part of it so I get to bring it back to say two.”
Russell, the junior guard from Braintree, MA set career-marks; in points with 19, rebounds with 9, five offensive, made field goals and attempts shooting 8 of 13 from the floor, and tied her high in made three-pointers converting 3 of 8. She also handed out 4 assists. Russell learned about the excitement Big Five from her teammates.
“Each Big Five game is hyped up,” said Russell. “It is always competitive, and so different. Getting a win not on your home court is exciting. Here, it was special getting that win.”
“Ashley is coming into her own,” McLaughlin said. “She can score the ball, she can shoot the three, and she is tough. She has a huge role here, and her teammates love to play with her.”
Fellow guard Lauren Whitlatch scored 11 points and she is on both city title winning teams. The senior is laying out future challenges for the underclassmen.
“I have big expectations for them, raising the bar,” Whitlatch said.
The Quakers had four other players score in double figures as Eleah Parker scored 16 points and took down 8 rebounds. Michelle Nwokedi also had 8 rebounds and added 3 assists in addition to scoring 13 points.
Penn is becoming balanced in their offense with a solid front line, and have effective outside shooting to their weaponry. The Red and Blue converted 9 of 24 from distance, and had 20 assists on 31 baskets while committing 9 turnovers.
“The girls down low being so consistent, when I happen to be open it is an easy three, so thanks to them,” said Whitlatch.
Penn got off to a quick start breaking out to a 13 – 4 lead in the first four minutes. Russell had 7 points while Whitlatch and Nwokedi sank three’s. The Red and Blue took control winning the third quarter 20 – 13 keeping the Cherry and White from making a serious charge, but the tempo was set early.
“We always come out and try to throw the first punch,” Russell said. “It was huge. Getting that first punch was key to the game.”
Tanaya Atkinson continued a tremendous season. The Owls senior guard posted her 11th double-double of the season and 25th of her career scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Desiree Oliver 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. Fellow first year player Mia Davis had 11 points and 8 rebounds. Temple has talented young players. They were in a position to win a championship, and got a taste of being in such a position.
“I was excited that we had the chance,” said Oliver. “I was motivated tonight, but…”
“Penn knew there was a championship on the line, and on our home court, they took it to us,” said Temple Coach T0nya Cardoza. “Beating Villanova opened up the door for us, but it also opened the door for them. They took advantage of it. It is disappointing that we let that opportunity slip away.”
The Owls (9 – 10, 1 – 5 AAC, 2 – 2 Big Five) get back to league business making a Florida trip facing USF on Sunday.
Penn (10 – 5, 2 – 1 Ivy League, 3 – 1 Big Five) plays Gwynedd Mercy on Sunday before an Ivy League road weekend at Brown and Yale. The Quakers add another banner to their collection.
“I want them to enjoy it,” said McLaughlin. “Whenever we do something successful, I want them to celebrate it.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian