Penn Tops Princeton to Win First Ivy Tourney Title and Return to the NCAAs
PHILADELPHIA – With the creation of the new men’s and women’s four-team Ivy League tournament and the way the season played out on the women’s side, Penn faced three precarious situations becoming reality through a loss:
There was the danger of having a gaudy 13-1 run through the six-weekends gauntlet and awarding of a third Ivy championship in four seasons and first-ever back-to-back ring hollow without the otherwise earned placement in the NCAA field attached.
There was the possibility having the aforementioned success go by the boards in Saturday’s opener through either a flat performance or sudden strike by the upstart seed in the tourney matchups.
And there was the potential of having another 2-0 sweep of the Quakers’ fiercest rival negated by the opponent in the championship contest within a week of their most recent meeting and also having their star player draw blanks at her most needed moments.
So how did coach Mike McLaughlin’s group handle what became a do-over weekend?
First, Brown’s uprising in the third quarter in Saturday’s semifinal was emphatically repulsed.
Second, the Quakers inflicted enough firepower on Princeton in the second and third periods Sunday afternoon to quell the effects of a fourth quarter rally and emerge the winner 57-48 in Penn’s Palestra.
And the combination of the two had the Red and Blue back on the ladders for another net-cutting celebration and trophy hoisting moment after Michelle Nwokedi accented her season Ivy most outstanding player honor by adding the Ivy tournament honor as well.
Games. Set. Match.
Ivy champions. Ivy Tournament champions. On to the Big Dance. Let Monday’s watch party commence.
“It’s been a tremendous ride with this team,” McLaughlin said in his opening remarks at the postgame press conference. “The growth and celebration that they will remember forever.
“We were fortunate enough to win three of the last four Ivy League championships but this one was special. It was on our court and I think it is something they will cherish forever. It is a moment that will always stand out,” he gushed with pride.
“… I just wanted them to have fun in this atmosphere and they did. I couldn’t be any more pleased to represent these guys as their coach because they deserve everything they got. It’s a great group of seniors, the junior class is terrific, and I’m a proud coach to watch them celebrate. It’s probably the best thing I could ever ask for.”
As for the action, the first period was a closely-fought battle between the two with the Quakers (22-7), who never allowed Princeton (16-13) the lead, owning a slim 15-4 advantage.
Then in the next, All-Ivy junior Anna Ross and classmate Nowkedi began to get consistent on offense and the Quakers rode a 14-4 period and 12-0 run until the Tigers scored late for a 29-18 lead at the break.
The advantage ballooned to 19 points in the third which was enough cushion to withstand a Tigers closing rush.
“Coming out of the first quarter, especially with the momentum on their side after that three-pointer by Gabrielle Rush, we came in knowing that defense was going to win this game,” Nwokedi said. “So we went into the second quarter going one stop after one stop, knowing that our offense would come.
“We got the stops and then were able to execute offensively.”
Nwokedi finished with another double double, scoring 15 points, fueled by 3-for-4 on attempted treys, and grabbing 11 rebounds while taking two steals and adding three blocked shots to the seven rejects she delivered to Brown.
Ross had 17 points while Kasey Chambers was 5-for-9, including a pair of three-pointers, to score 13 points. Princess Aghayere, allowing Nwokedi to get some rest again, shot 3-for-4 to get six points in 10 minutes of the game and senior Sydney Stipanovich only had a point but her ongoing work on the boards with eight rebounds allowed the Quakers’ post presence to be formidable.
Princeton’s Bella Alarie, the Ivy freshman of the year, had 11 points and tied Nwokedi for game-rebounding honors, also with 11.
Princeton was held to 28.3 percent from the field, but just 2-for-17 for 11.3 percent in that decisive second quarter.
“We probably have one quarter a game where we don’t trust each other,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said of the lapse. “So the ball died in people’s hands, we didn’t move, we didn’t attack with aggressiveness.
“Penn … is one of the best teams I’ve seen in their defensive positioning. They’re very experienced and their defensive positioning doesn’t change game to game, possession to possession. What happened in the second quarter versus the other quarters is we didn’t trust each other. The environment was a little big for my team today.”
The Quakers have now beaten Princeton five straight times, longest streak for them in the series, dating back to last season’s sweep.
Princeton, which finished four games behind Penn but in second place, has an automatic bid to the WNIT as the Ivy runners up in the season standings.
When Stipanovich arrived four years ago, she was the final key addition to McLaughlin’s build of the program to start challenging Princeton for Ivy supremacy as the Quakers took the first title in the McLaughlin era her freshman season.
And now she was in her building Sunday for the shot at final home team glory.
“I wish I could be here for another four years,” she said. “It’s been a great experience and I couldn’t think of a better way to end my senior year, on the Palestra floor, with a win.”
After being assigned Maryland in the Quakers’ two recent trips to the NCAA first weekend, Penn will learn its fate Monday night when a watch party, open to the public, will be held, at the Palestra.
The Ivy digital network will again televise the event and ESPN will begin revealing the NCAA bracket at 7 p.m.