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Penn women down Dartmouth to set up season-defining showdown with Harvard

03/01/2024, 10:30pm EST
By Josh Verlin

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

For Penn’s women to extend their season past next weekend, Friday night’s home game against Dartmouth was all but a must-win. A loss wouldn’t put Mike McLaughlin’s squad’s chances at 0, but the outlook wouldn’t be good.

In picking up their most critical win yet, the Quakers didn’t just beat the Big Green — they dominated. 

Behind 21 points from Stina Almqvist, 18 from Mataya Gayle and a staunch defensive effort, Penn ran past Dartmouth for a 79-41 win. It’s the third victory in four games for the Quaker women, all at just the right time with the playoffs bearing down.

Stina Almqvist (above) scored a game-high 21 points against Dartmouth. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“This group is determined, they know what we have to do this weekend, we have to win both games,” McLaughlin said. “We took it as a coaching point, one-at-a-time type, but they were really dialed in this week at practice.

“We haven’t had that direct conversation about who we’ve got to beat [...] we just have to win basketball games, and tonight was absolutely necessary to have another conversation about another game. We haven’t had a dialogue about what that looks like, other than we need to have success on this court this weekend.”

Penn’s win was crucial towards keeping the Quakers (14-11, 6-6) in the Ivy League postseason chase, moving them one well-timed win away from a playoff berth.

The Quakers entered the weekend tied with Brown for fourth place in the Ancient Eight, the top four going to the Ivy League Tournament at Columbia University in a couple weeks. The Bears lost to Columbia on Friday evening, moving Penn into sole possession of fourth with two games to play thanks to its win.

But Brown (14-11, 5-7) has the far easier closing schedule, finishing at home against Cornell (7-17, 1-11) and Yale (8-17, 5-7); Penn has Harvard (15-10, 8-4) visiting Saturday (4 PM) and then a trip to Princeton (21-4, 11-1) next Saturday to close out the regular season.

Penn and Brown split the season series, so a tie between the two in the standing means going to tiebreakers. The second tiebreaker after head-to-head record is record against the best team in the league, then second best, and so on; Brown lost two games to Harvard, so a Penn win Saturday should all but clinch a playoff spot. If not, a win over Princeton would also do the trick, but there’s no doubt Saturday is the easier opportunity.

“We know, we know what each game means, in terms of making the tournament or not,” Penn senior Jordan Obi said. “We’re just trying to take one game at a time and just lock in on each moment, each possession. What happens, happens, I guess.”

Penn struggled with the Ivy League’s basement-dweller the first time these two met back in Hanover (N.H.) in January. Dartmouth led after one quarter and at halftime in a game the visitors won 53-39 thanks to an 18-8 third quarter. 

Jordan Obi (above) recently surpassed the 1,000-point mark. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The Quakers didn’t face any such resistance from the Big Green on Friday night. Penn scored the game’s first 10 points, led 25-5 after one quarter and 43-15 at halftime, getting whatever it wanted inside or out. 

Penn dominated inside, out-rebounding Dartmouth 42-28, a margin that was even greater before the Quaker backups played the entire fourth quarter. Penn scored 40 of its points in the paint, Almqvist hitting her first eight shots while adding nine rebounds. Ten different Quakers entered the scoring column; Obi scored eight points and grabbed 11 boards, senior center Floor Toonders adding nine points and three rebounds.

They also hit 10-of-24 (41.7%) from 3-point range, a nice mark for a squad that's below 30% from deep on the season.

“Today, post defense was really a thing,” said Obi, who was honored before the game for scoring her 1,000th career point early in February. “I think the post killed us last time at Dartmouth. Being sound on our post defense was a big emphasis coming into this game.”

That margin of victory could pay off come Saturday. Unlike Harvard, which had a hard-fought 11-point loss at Princeton on Friday night, Penn was able to keep its starters fresh. Nobody played more than 23 minutes against Dartmouth, as McLaughlin was able to get 11 players on the court for double-digit minutes.

“That’s super-important,” Obi said. “Just for rest’s sake, making sure that we’re all mentally, physically, emotionally locked in to what we need to do tomorrow.”

In the first meeting this season between the Quakers and Crimson, a 69-56 Harvard win on Jan. 20 in Cambridge (Mass.), Penn was burned by Harmoni Turner (31 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists) and Katie Krupa (25 points), though it was a six-point game entering the fourth quarter before a 14-2 slammed the door shut.

Slowing Turner, a 5-10 junior guard and the Crimson’s leading scorer (19.0 ppg), is a must.

“Defensively we didn’t really make adjustments throughout the game, [we] let Harmoni control the whole thing,” Obi said. “Going into tomorrow, defense is really going to be our priority.

“I’m thinking about it like forget Brown, forget everybody else,” she added. “Just lock in on Harvard, if we win against Harvard, we know what that means.”

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