When the University of Pennsylvania Quakers (10-5, 2-1 Ivy, 3-1 Big 5) stepped came into McGonigle Hall Wednesday night to face off against the Temple Owls (9-10, 1-5 American, 2-2 Big 5), a championship was officially on the line.
After the Quakers defeated the Villanova Wildcats last weekend, a share of the Big 5 title was officially on the line. Whoever won last night’s matchup would own a share of the 2017-18 Big 5 title with the Wildcats.
The Quakers controlled the game right from the tip and ended up winning the contest 74-59. The Owls have now lost five games in a row and are below .500 for the first time this season.
“Hats off to Penn, they came in here and knew that there was a championship on the line and on our home court, they took it right to us. Them beating Villanova opened up the door for us, but it also opened up the door for them and they took advantage of us not being able to sit down and defend and guard them the way that they needed to be guarded,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “It’s disappointing that we let that opportunity slip away.”
The Quakers ran off to a 13-4 lead in the first four minutes, lead by three three-pointers by junior guard Ashley Russell, senior guard Lauren Whitlatch, and senior forward Michelle Nwokedi.
After Cardoza called a timeout to try and settle the team down, the Owls responded with a 9-3 run to cut the lead to just two at 13-11. The Quakers responded with their own 12-3 run and closed the quarter with a 23-14 lead.
“We moved a lot more on offense in the first half than in the second half,” senior guard Tanaya Atkinson said. “We got the good opportunities to score in the first because people were moving the ball quicker and guys weren’t just standing there and watching the ball movement.”
The Quakers opened the second quarter by scoring six straight points to run the lead to 29-14. The two teams traded buckets for a little after that, but then Atkinson and freshman guard Desiree Oliver fueled the Owls as the team went on a 12-3 run.
On back-to-back possessions, Atkinson finished off two impressive and-one’s and Oliver netted two three-point baskets to cut the Quaker lead to just 36-31. The Owls kept the pressure on throughout the rest of the half and the Quakers only held a 42-34 lead at halftime.
“After those two and-one’s, I made sure to tell the team that we needed to stay focused. We knew we were down and that we needed to get stops. We wanted to keep a rhythm also by pushing in transition when we had the ball,” Atkinson said. “We needed to be a lot more aggressive down low also and needed to box out in order to get rebounds and run.”
In a game of runs, the Quakers had another big one out of the half to take a 53-39 lead. They would not look back from there.
After freshman forward had a three-point play of her own, the Owls cut the deficit to just nine, but Penn closed the quarter on a 16-10 run and held a 62-47 lead.
The Owls could not muster a comeback in the final quarter. The closest they got was a 12-point deficit as the Quakers ran out the clock and won the game 74-59.
“We needed to focus a lot more on making sure that we were smart with the ball and when and where to pass it. I felt like today we were really, really rattled and in our own heads,” Cardoza said. “Once the game started to get away from us we just lost our composure.”
The Quakers had a terrific night scoring the ball, especially down in the post. They scored 40 points down low all night and shot 37.5% from the three-point line as well.
“Today’s a great example of how we wanted to defend them in the post, but we didn’t follow that game plan. We didn’t want them to turn over with their left shoulder and go up with their right hand because they’re very good at that. Overall, we didn’t follow the defensive game plan and allowed them to play to their strengths,” Cardoza said. “We said that we wanted to chase shooters off that screen but every single time that a shooter came off we decided to go inside and, like a pinball machine, we were getting bumped all over the place and they got to set their feet and put up an easy shot.”
The Owls struggled mightily in the second half. They shot well in both the first and second quarters, yet show a measly 26.3% from the field in the third quarter. The Quakers ran a press defense as well against the Owls, which slowed down the tempo the Owls had wanted to create all game long. As a result, they rushed their offense and ended up with 16 turnovers.
“The press slowed us down a lot considering that we like to get out in transition and push the ball,” Oliver said. “It played a big part in us turning the ball over more than we should have.”
Atkinson had her 10th double-double of the season as she tallied 19 points and 11 rebounds while Oliver had a good all-around game and contributed 14 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Freshman Mia Davis continued her impressive first year as well with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Owls will look to improve in conference play when they take on the #23 University of South Florida Bulls on Sunday in a road contest.