Harvard women come back to beat Penn

Junior guard Annie Stritzel registered 12 points, five rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes in Harvard’s 70-63 win at Penn Saturday, pivotal production off the bench against a Red & Blue squad for which just four players scored. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

PHILADELPHIA – Everyone at the Palestra knew what was at stake Saturday afternoon: the inside track on fourth place in the Ivies.

That may not sound like much of a prize, but four women’s teams will play at Harvard in March for Ivy Madness; the fifth-place team can watch on TV. And the Harvard women took a big step toward fourth place (or better) with a 70-63 comeback victory over Penn.

As they did at Columbia three days earlier, the Quakers led most of the way, building as much as a 13-point margin in the third quarter. The lead could easily have been 20 or more, in fact: The Quakers missed several good chances inside and kept missing foul shots (hitting just seven of 13 on the day). Still, Penn was the better team most of the way.

But the Crimson (10-9, 4-3 Ivies) exploded for 28 points in the fourth, intercepting Penn (7-11, 2-4) passes repeatedly and sinking 59% of their shots.

If coach Kathy Delaney-Smith is going to cap her 40th and final year at Harvard by bringing her team to the Ivy tournament in their home arena, that fourth quarter will be a turning point to remember. McKenzie Forbes, the Crimson’s 5-10 guard, led with 18 points on the day, going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Maggie McCarthy, Lola Mullaney and Annie Stritzel off the bench also hit double figures for Harvard.

Penn, likewise, had four players in double figures, but those four accounted for every one of the Quakers’ points. Kayla Padilla, who by her high standards struggled at Columbia, had 20 points on 9-for-20 shooting, plus five assists. Forward Jordan Obi had another strong game, with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting; Kennedy Suttle and Mia Lakstigala had 13 apiece. Those four Quakers played virtually the full 40 minutes; Padilla missed the most time, about a minute and half, after an errant Harvard arm gave her a bloody nose.

“This team has worked their butts off to get better and better, and they deserved a better fate today,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said afterward. “Fatigue was a factor, and you have kids playing far too many minutes. I recognize it. I have to do better there.”

Both teams will be at home next for a traditional Ivy back-to-back basketball weekend: Harvard against Brown and Yale, Penn against Columbia and Cornell.