As Charles Dickens once wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness.”
He wrote this to take stock of the haves and have-nots of Victorian England. The world Penn women’s basketball played in this weekend is vastly different from the one Dickens wrote about, but her message still holds true. The team’s performances on Friday night and Saturday afternoon were almost as opposite as light and dark.
Against Columbia on Friday night, the Quakers were completely outplayed for 40 minutes, ultimately succumbing 72-50 to a Lions side they beat at the Palestra four weeks earlier. The final score doesn’t do the destruction justice, though. Penn was wiped out in almost every statistical category, including 16-7 in offensive rebounds, 22-7 in assists and an incredibly poor 30-0 in quick break points.
But less than 24 hours later, the team bounced back with a game-winning performance at Cornell, deftly beating the Big Red 67-54. The team that looked slow and cold the night before was playing loose, fitting in well as a team, and looking like a team that could be a serious threat in the Ivy League tournament.
Many of the questions I had leaving Levien Gymnasium were answered on Saturday night, the biggest being whether the team can generate offense outside of senior guard Kayla Padilla and junior forward Jordan Obi. On Friday night, the rest of the squad underperformed, with only one player scoring multiple field goals. Almost every possession seemed to hinge on Padilla or Obi overcoming a tough defense to make a layup or a contested jumper.
On Saturday, although Padilla and Obi once again led the Quakers in scoring, others intensified.
Senior guard Mandy McGurk dished out six assists, and the ball seemed to move better overall, with many Quakers making plays for themselves and their teammates.
Another massive flaw on Friday was the transition defense. Penn gave up a staggering 30 points in transition, and it seemed like every time the Lions got a defensive rebound, possession would result in an open three-point or little-contested layup before the shot clock even ran. reaches 20. But on Saturday, the Quakers seemed to be recovering better on defense, giving up just six points on the fast break.
But even though their performance at Cornell answered many questions, some linger, one of which concerns coach Mike McLaughlin’s handling of his rotations. Although the outcome of the game against Columbia became clear shortly after the third quarter, McLaughlin refused to withdraw his starters until there were approximately four minutes left in the game. At the end of the evening, Padilla and Obi played 35 minutes.
Against Cornell, exhaustion set in. The team turned the ball over 20 times and looked tired in the second half. Why did McLaughlin keep his starters on for so long on Friday? I don’t know. What’s scarier is that I’m not sure McLaughlin knows either.
Playing two games without a rest day in between is difficult. Really hard. Basketball is a demanding sport, and winning at this level requires the player to give it their all. If a player is on the ground, she will give everything. McLaughlin should know that, which is why part of his responsibility as a coach is to protect the players from themselves, especially if they have another game the next day. Penn wasn’t making any progress against Columbia, so he should have pulled his starters early to keep them fresh for Saturday.
Fortunately, it didn’t matter. Penn won on Saturday, and the team’s 6-3 conference record is enough to keep them in the coveted top four of the Ancient Eight standings. With five games to go, the Quakers control their own destiny for the Ivy League tournament. They also have five games to answer the remaining questions before each game is life or death.