Penn women turn back Harvard in overtime

The Harvard women were fighting for a win at home for their legendary coach on Kathy Delaney-Smith Day.

But the Penn women were fighting for a chance to redeem their season, and they came away with the overtime win, 87-78.

Penn (9-12, 4-5 Ivy) still has a shot at displacing Harvard (12-10, 6-4) or Yale (13-9, 6-4) for a spot in the Ivy tournament alongside Princeton (17-4, 9-0) and Columbia (17-4, 8-1). Friday’s Penn-Yale game at the Palestra remains crucial.

Two weeks after blowing a big fourth-quarter lead at home and losing to the Crimson, the Quakers again lost a double-digit lead, but they kept their poise and dominated the overtime period to complete their best game of the season thus far.

When Penn does well, that usually means that Kayla Padilla and Jordan Obi are on their game, and that was the case Saturday. Padilla, the junior guard, never got hot from outside — just 1-for-6 on threes — but converted lightning-quick drives for baskets, assists or foul shots and finished with 23 points. Obi, the first-year (sophomore) forward, had an outstanding game from inside, from outside, from the foul line and on defense. She was dominant as Penn built a 41-26 halftime lead, contributing 15 of her 20 points in the first half, and ended with a dozen rebounds as well.

Senior forward Kennedy Suttle has been a Penn mainstay for rebounds, but against Harvard she had her best game: not just 16 rebounds but also 7-for-9 shooting and 19 points, her career high, with critical baskets in the fourth quarter. And freshman Stina Almqvist came off the bench for 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting and six rebounds — a crucial contribution especially in the third quarter, when Padilla and Obi were scoreless. Almqvist and Suttle also combined to shoot 6-for-8 from the free-throw line in the closing minutes of regulation.

Penn dominated statistically, shooting 46% on the day and holding Harvard to 33%. Penn also led off the boards, 57-40, and at the foul line (24-for-32 vs. 9-for-15). But Harvard, as usual, was ferocious for the ball, extending its Ivy lead in steals with 13 while committing just nine turnovers to Penn’s 22.

Two other factors kept Penn from winning handily in regulation: McKenzie Forbes and Harmoni Turner. Forbes, a 6-foot junior guard who transferred east from the University of California, Berkeley, had a career-high 30 points; Turner, a 5-10 guard and maybe the Ivies’ most exciting true freshman, scored 23 just a few days after scorching Yale for 25. Forbes and Turner led Harvard’s wild 35-point fourth quarter to close an 11-point gap and bring near-delirium to the 1,100-plus fans who turned out to honor Delaney-Smith as she nears the end of her 40 years of coaching the Crimson.

After the break, though, Harvard came out flat, and the conference’s top-scoring offense managed just a three-pointer in the extra five minutes, while Penn dropped 12 points, including 8-for-10 on free throws.

The loss on Delaney-Smith Day had to hurt, but at least Harvard fans could appreciate a game between two well-coached and disciplined teams.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin has a mere 208 wins at Penn, compared to Delaney-Smith’s 629 at Harvard, but his career total is 615, and the Quakers aim to pick up a bunch more before Mike McLaughlin Day ever comes to the Palestra. If they get one next week, they could be back at Harvard for the Ivy tournament next month.