Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Just a little more than a month ago, the Penn women’s basketball team was working on the wrong kind of streak.
Following a win over Marist in their opener, the Quakers dropped five straight games. Their star Kayla Padilla hadn't quite found her groove. Their other standout Jordan Obi was still figuring out the formula for her success as will.
After a winless West Coast trip, Penn returned to Philadelphia on Nov. 29 and took down Big 5 rival La Salle.
The streak stopped and another one started — this one in the other direction.
Penn has reeled off nine straight victories, the latest a 71-67 nailbiter win over Ivy League rival Columbia on Saturday evening.
Obi poured in an efficient 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Padilla scored 21 points and played all 40 minutes to help the Quakers to the second longest win streak in program history.
“We had a little bit of a slump in November after traveling a lot and then finally when we got this homestead we knew we needed to make some noise,” Padilla said. “It’s all about peaking at the right time, and I think this is a time that we’re really showing what we can do. And I don’t think the league has seen our best basketball yet.”
Penn's Jordan Obi (0) had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday's win over Columbia. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Saturday marked an enormous ‘noise-making’ opportunity.
Columbia came into Saturday’s game on a win streak of its own. The Lions (13-3, 2-1 Ivy), who received votes in the latest Top 25 poll, entered with 10 straight wins — the most in program history — including an overtime victory over reigning league champion Princeton on Friday night.
The victory pushed the Quakers up to first place early in Ivy League play and showed Penn, which finished 12-14 overall and 7-7 in the league last season, has made the jump back to contender this year.
“It’s a great college basketball game, the best venue to do it,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “It was exciting, a little bit of everything, the ebbs and flows of the game. I’m super, super happy with this team right now. They are progressing. You watch the passion, the love they have for each other is contagious. They’re playing the game the right way and competing at a high level. That was about as exciting as you’re going to get.”
The Lions held the upper hand on the Quakers 35-34 at halftime and turned that into a double-digit lead, 47-37, on an and-one by Kitty Henderson a little more than three minutes into the half.
The comeback run for Penn (10-5, 3-0) came quite suddenly. Obi got to the line for a few free throws to halt the Lions’ momentum. Then a steal by Mandy McGurk and an ensuing three by Simone Sawyer seemed to spark the Quakers alive.
Penn finished the third quarter on a 13-3 run, two buckets by Padilla giving Penn a 55-54 lead entering the fourth.
“We emphasize that basketball is a game of runs, so as short as we can keep theirs and start ours is always our mentality,” Padilla said. “It was a total game-changer. We always emphasize coming out of the half strong, and we didn’t do that to the best of our abilities, so I’m just glad we got it started again.”
Columbia's Paige Lauder, a Villa Maria product, had 14 points against Penn. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
The lead switched hands five times in the first three-plus minutes of the fourth. Villa Maria product banked in a three with five minutes to help Columbia retake a 65-63 lead. Jaida Patrick added another bucket to push that advantage to 67-63 with 3:43 left.
Lauder, who had a section of fans cheering her on, tied for a team-high 14 points with Kaitlyn Davis. She was 6-for-10 from the floor and grabbed five rebounds in a season-high 23 minutes, scoring 10 of her points in the second half.
“She plays hard all the time,” Columbia coach Megan Griffith said. “She’s a great athlete. SHe’s got a knack for the ball. She rebounds. She can hit a shot. She’s extremely versatile.”
The four-point margin stood for about four minutes until a Padilla and-one pulled Penn within one, 67-66. After a defensive stop, Obi was fouled on a defensive board and knocked down two free throws to give the Quakers a 68-67 lead with 59 seconds left.
Columbia’s first chance to go ahead was swatted away by Floor Toonders (11 points). It was one of four blocks for the 6-4 forward in the game.
“I was able to step up this time and block the shot, so I was really happy with that,” Toonders said. “But it’s because the guards runs the player off the line so they have to take hard shots.”
After two more opportunities to tie or go ahead, the Lions got the ball back down 69-67 with seven seconds left. Davis got off a contested three, but it was no good and Obi secured the rebound — her sixth of the quarter. She was fouled and knocked down two more free throws to put the game away for good.
“Everyone has known that Jordan has been an absolute force on the offensive side and can score from the inside and from three,” Padilla said. “But these past few Ivy games, she’s shown she’s an absolute monster on the boards, which is just another element I think people have to watch out for.”
There were plenty of hugs for Obi on the court postgame and smiles as the Quakers exited to the locker room following the big one. They don’t know when the run will end, but they’re going to enjoy this streak while it lasts.
“You watch these kids respond and they just feel good about what they’re doing,” McLaughlin said. “I want to stay out of the way when they’re rolling because I want them to enjoy this. This is a challenge for them everyday to do this and they need to celebrate the wins because winning isn’t an easy thing to do.
“They’re in there celebrating because they deserved it. They played hard, they prepared, the balls went our way and you get that feeling because that’s what you play for.”