Penn can’t get by on potential versus No. 25 Princeton

Turns out it takes more than potential to beat Princeton.

The season’s first meeting between the two most highly regarded women’s teams in the Ivies lived up to its billing for exactly 20 minutes, as Penn played the nationally ranked Tigers about even at the Palestra. But Princeton dominated inside and played better defense — something that almost never happens to the Penn women — to pull away in the second half and coast to a 75-55 win Saturday afternoon.
Penn (10-2, 0-1 Ivy) had a monumental turnout of talent. Unfortunately for the Quakers, much of that was in the stands — among them ballhandlers and playmakers like Meghan McCullough, Kasey Chambers and Anna Ross, a dominant frontcourt player in Michelle Nwokedi, and the versatile Katy Allen and Lauren Whitlatch to drive to the basket or sink threes.They’re all alums, and they weren’t in superhero mode, ready to toss off their street clothes to reveal their old uniforms underneath and come to the rescue.

And the Quakers on the court shouldn’t have needed rescuing. Their marshmallow nonconference schedule did them no favors in preparing them for Ivy competition, but they have a strong team led by a great center in junior Eleah Parker and the consensus rookie of the year in high-scoring guard Kayla Padilla. Sure enough, Padilla led all scorers with 27 points, the most so far in her young career, but Parker had just two blocks, six rebounds and two points on 1-for-5 shooting.

The Tigers took control in the third quarter in part by harassing the Quakers into turnovers, getting eight steals overall to Penn’s three. But the rebounding edge was more telling: 44-25. In fact, Princeton (13-1, 1-0) had almost as many offensive rebounds (17) and the Quakers had defensive rebounds (19), and the Tigers repeatedly had not just second but third chances at the basket, giving them 25 second-chance points to the Quakers’ nine.
As usual, much of the credit goes to all-everything Bella Alarie, who took home 25 points and 11 rebounds for the gazillionth double-double of her career. Fellow senior Taylor Baur also had a standout day, with a career-high 15 points and 13 boards.
For Penn, the bright lights were Padilla’s lights-out shooting from all over (10-for-14, including 4-for-7 from deep) and another strong game off the bench for forward Tori Crawford (a career-high 13 points plus 8 rebounds). But between now and Feb. 25, the teams’ next meeting, the Quakers will have to figure out how to work the ball inside more effectively and how to keep Princeton from dominating the boards.
Before then, Princeton has a bit of break before resuming its Ivy schedule with the long road trip to Dartmouth (Jan. 31) and Harvard (Feb. 1). Penn will play Wednesday at Villanova and Jan. 23 at Temple to decide Big 5 bragging rights, and then it’s off to Harvard and Dartmouth.