Balanced effort gets win for Penn women over Cornell

The Penn women broke a five-game losing streak and maintained a shot at the Ivy tournament with a 71-61 win Saturday over Cornell at the Palestra.

No one’s breaking out the champagne — or even the prosecco — in West Philly yet, but the Quakers (8-12, 3-5 Ivy) had their strongest and most balanced effort in weeks. The Big Red (7-12, 2-6) kept pace for most of the first half on hot shooting but came back down to earth in the second, and the Quakers led by as much as 18 in the third and fourth quarters before an effective Cornell full-court press forced some Penn turnovers in the last three minutes to make the game closer. Penn didn’t panic, though, and hit all six of its shots from the field in the final quarter, and 43% on the day.

In their first meeting of the year, both Penn and Cornell had a chance to clarify where they’re going this season. After years at or near the top of the Ivies under coach Mike McLaughlin, Penn has struggled to a losing record overall and in the conference, having fallen to Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia (twice). Cornell’s program has had strong games, including a win at home against Brown, but still hasn’t put together an upset of a team in the top half of the league, and it lacks the depth of talent that can be attracted to places more interesting than Ithaca.

At least with Cornell on the court, Penn looked like a team that could supplant Harvard or Yale from Ivy Madness.

Though guard Kayla Padilla led all scorers with 18 points and added six rebounds, she wasn’t carrying the Quakers on her back this time. In fact, they built their lead before she got her shooting hand warmed up.

Forward Jordan Obi had a double-double — 11 rebounds and 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting — and junior guard Sydnei Caldwell, fresh off a 20-point game against Columbia, made her first college start and scored nine points on 3-for-4 shooting. Mia Lakstigala picked up three threes for nine points; senior forward Kennedy Suttle had seven rebounds, five steals and eight points; and freshman Stina Almqvist came off the bench for eight points.

After a series of games in which they were at a disadvantage inside, the Quakers held the edge on rebounds (37-28) and second-chance points (15-12).

Cornell relied heavily on senior forward Theresa Grace Mbanefo, with 12 points and six rebounds, and the outside sharpshooting of junior guard Shannon Mulroy, who went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and finished with 16 points off the bench.

Cornell heads to Brown (5-15, 0-8) on Saturday, when Penn gets its rematch at Harvard (12-9, 6-3).