Penn did a lot of things well against No. 14 Arizona in their Wooden Legacy semifinal matchup in Anaheim that lasted past 1:30 a.m. EST Saturday, but it still wasn’t quite enough.
That’s all right, though. Penn fans who stayed up to follow along got a lot of positives to take away anyway.
Penn fell 92-82 to an Arizona squad whose length and potent outside shooting (the Wildcats rank sixth in the nation in three-point percentage) made it difficult to handle.
But Penn hung tough in impressive fashion, overcoming foul trouble from team anchor AJ Brodeur and a stellar 24-point performance from rookie Nico Mannion to cut an Arizona lead that had ballooned to 66-49 with 11:47 remaining down to 82-78 with 3:03 to play.
Although a difficult stepback jumper from Mannion put the Wildcats back up six with 2:29 to play and set the table for Arizona to hang on, Penn’s offensive performance proved the following:
- Penn is dangerous from downtown
Penn hit 13 of 34 three-point attempts against Arizona, including 10 of 20 in the second half. Penn has now made 46 three-pointers on 113 attempts in just the last four games for a blazing 40.7% clip. The Red & Blue are a roster full of shooters who get good looks within the rhythm of their offense, and although shooting touches come and go, there are plenty go around for Penn.
- Dingle is the real deal
Chief among those shooters is rising first-year star Jordan Dingle, who shot 6-for-11 from deep in the second half versus Arizona alone for a game-high 27 points. Dingle has shown moxie not typically found in rookies. He seems to get better as games progress, and he leads Penn in minutes six games into his collegiate career. Steve Donahue clearly trusts him, and Penn followers already do too.
- Penn can take care of the basketball
The Red & Blue shot themselves in the foot over and over again in its 68-67 win over UCF to set up its showdown with Arizona in the Wooden Legacy, committing 22 turnovers. But Penn has the second-lowest turnover percentage in the Ivy League per KenPom (higher than only Cornell) and leaned on its offensive discipline even when its shots weren’t falling in the first half against the Wildcats. Despite Arizona’s considerable length, control of tempo in a fast-paced game and excellence at forcing turnovers (Zona ranks 23rd in the nation in defensive turnover percentage), and even without Penn committed just nine turnovers to go along with 21 assists on 27 field goals (10 of those dishes coming from AJ Brodeur), a remarkable feat. If Penn can protect the basketball against Arizona, it should be able to do the same come Ivy play as well.
And while Penn’s defense struggled, allowing 1.30 points per possession and giving up 51 second-half points, it suffered greatly from Brodeur’s second-half foul trouble. Brodeur picked up his third and fourth fouls before three minutes had elapsed in the second half, causing Donahue to substitute him out during Penn’s turns on defense whenever possible, depriving Penn of its rim protector. When Brodeur was in on defense, Arizona took advantage of his precarious foul count by going right at him, getting buckets easier than they probably would have been if Brodeur wasn’t so focused on simply not getting called for a fifth foul. Several of Brodeur’s fouls didn’t appear to be fouls at all, including his first foul, charged to him after two Wildcats ran into each other. But Arizona earned the win with a balanced offensive attack led by Mannion, one of the most potent offenses Penn will go up against all season, although No. 22 Villanova and its No. 3 adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom await Wednesday at Finneran Pavilion.
In the meantime, Penn will face Long Beach State in the tournament third-place game Sunday at 1:30 p.m. EST (10:30 a.m. local time) on ESPN2. The 49ers lost to Wake Forest in the other semifinal matchup Friday, 88-75.