Penn women lose well to Villanova after winning ugly at St. Francis Brooklyn

A win’s a win, right? And if you win by 17, you must have done well, right?

Then you lose by three at home — a bad night, of course.

But those two games for the Penn women were paradoxically disappointing and worth celebrating. Mike McLaughlin’s team escaped Brooklyn with a 63-46 victory Thursday over St. Francis. Penn failed to play its game with any consistency, and the Terriers gave the Quakers a good shake and would have had a shot at winning if they hadn’t had a preposterously bad night of shooting — 14-for-62 (22.6%).

Then, on Monday, the Quakers — minus their upper-class leaders — faced their first serious challenge in their first Big 5 opponent of the year, played with verve and discipline, and almost won again.

Remember that, over the first eight games of the season, all of Penn’s juniors and seniors are serving four-game suspensions for violating unspecified university rules. (Selling fake Shakespeare folios? We may never know.) Against Villanova, that meant a night involuntarily off for Kayla Padilla, the 2019-20 Ivy Rookie of the Year, and seniors Mia Lakstigala and Kennedy Suttle, among others. That’s three likely starters when the Quakers are at full strength against Duke in game No. 9.

So what did they do against Villanova? Well, they relied on forward Jordan Obi for 40 quality minutes. And what did Obi do? She scored inside and outside — nine of her 24 points were on threes — while shooting 9-for-14 and collecting half a dozen rebounds. Four games into her college career, against a team that had a height advantage on Penn, the sophomore looked like a quick and polished senior.

Junior guard Mandy McGurk, taking her turn on the court after sitting out the last one, hustled for 12 points, two assists, three steals and several harassments. And freshman Lizzy Groetsch was everywhere, possibly outhustling even McGurk, getting 10 points and four steals.

Give credit to Nova, which (as usual) moved the ball well and hit threes — 46.4% of them — especially from the hands of Lior Garzon (21 points) and Lucy Olsen (20). The Wildcats also kept their cool when the Quakers erased nearly all of a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter; a last-second long three attempt by Groetsch banged off the back of the rim, and Villanova escaped with the 66-63 win.

Penn was more disciplined in its loss than in its win. Against Villanova, the Quakers had to commit a handful of fouls to reach the bonus and keep the Wildcats from running out the clock — and even so, Penn had just 13 personal fouls on the night. (The foul that hurt the most was a technical called in the third quarter after McLaughlin and the entire Penn bench objected to a dubious traveling call.)

Against St. Francis, the Quakers had 19 fouls, which might well stand as the most for the season. St. Francis had the advantage on steals (8 to 3) and repeatedly worked its way to good shots that didn’t fall. Nor were the Quakers a model of consistency on offense, with 15 turnovers to 11 for St. Francis.

The bright spots for Penn included the play of guard Nikola Kovacikova, a senior transfer from Georgetown (and from Slovakia), who made the most of her 40 minutes to shoot 7-for-11 from the field for 17 points, with six assists. Padilla led all scorers with 23 points. Suttle was a force inside with her second career double-double: 11 points and 17 rebounds. Obi, though, got into foul trouble and sank just one basket and two free throws.

The Penn women are having a California Thanksgiving, playing in Loyola Marymount’s holiday tournament — but not against the host team. Penn faces San Diego on Friday and Memphis on Saturday. Look for Penn fans in the stands: Obi is from Cupertino, near San Francisco, and Padilla is from Torrance, just a few minutes down the 405 from Loyola Marymount.

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