What would you consider the most important aspect of the Penn women’s easy win against King’s College, 91-55, on Tuesday night at the Palestra?
Surely not the win itself, though a loss to any Division III squad would have been an embarrassment and a flashing red sign of problems at Penn. King’s has a good team with an excellent shooting guard in Samantha Rajza, who had 20 points on 6-for-13 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. But King’s had no way to compete in the paint, so it lived and died by its three-point shots, putting up 36 of them and sinking 12.
Not the continued fine play of senior guard Mia Lakstigala, who can run the offense, harass on defense, score from downtown and create plays in the lane. Lakstigala had nine points, five assists and three steals — a solid evening’s effort but no more than we might have predicted two years ago when she played consistently well off the bench.
The obvious focus is 6-1 forward Jordan Obi, whose first game for Penn at the Palestra — just her second college game ever — was an emphatic statement that she has arrived: a double-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and three steals. Let’s also note that she can hit free throws, something we couldn’t say about many of Penn’s best frontcourt players of years past: She went 6-for-8 from the line Tuesday.
Set aside the numbers, though, and what stood out about Obi and the other Quakers on the court was the flair with which they played. Obi, at least with no dominant defender in her way, was free to fake, cut, slice and dice her way to the basket repeatedly, with the ball or ready to take a quick pass. Mandy McGurk, who two years ago as a freshman appeared in 12 games for an average 3.8 minutes of garbage time, had 30 minutes to strut her stuff: She perpetrated three steals, had three assists, went 8-for-14 from the field and scored 17 points. Until Tuesday, she had 13 points in her entire college career. On Tuesday, she played with swagger.
(Well, she played with swagger as a freshman, too, but if you blinked you would have missed it. There’s no missing it now.)
It’s important to note that this Penn team is and will continue to be incomplete for its first eight games, as it benches all of its juniors and seniors four games apiece for violating unspecified university rules. (Bad-mouthing Princeton? Boys in the dorm?) So Kayla Padilla and Kennedy Suttle, among others, had an unwanted night off. The first-year players will get extra court time in the nonconference games, not a terrible thing. And we’ll see multiple combinations of players in the starting lineup and off the bench.
Coach Mike McLaughlin’s teams are known for their discipline — sharp ball movement, rigorous defense, next to no fouls. That won’t change. (Personal fouls for Penn on Tuesday: six.) But it will be interesting to see whether this year’s edition brings more flair to the court as well. These players seem to have the talent for it.