The Penn women will head home from California dreaming of better days, having dropped two games during their Thanksgiving break but having demonstrated the standout talent of a star freshman.
The trip was a coming-out party for 5-foot-11 guard Simone Sawyer, who is fulfilling her promise as an electric offensive threat. At San Francisco on Monday, Sawyer came off the bench early and started hitting threes, going 6-for-9, to account for her team-leading 18 points in 33 minutes. So coach Mike McLaughlin started her at Southern California, gave her 30 minutes on the floor and got another team-leading 18 points: 6 of 10 from the floor this time, including 4-for-7 from deep, with three assists and four steals.
It’s also good news that the Quakers (1-5) were competitive against two good teams, USF (3-2) and especially USC (5-0). But they’ll have to be better still to reclaim a spot in the top half of the Ivies.
The USC game showed more promise for Penn. USC is 40 years removed from its glory days of back-to-back national championships with Cheryl Miller, but this year’s team has trounced USF, and it’s gearing up for a murderous schedule starting in mid-December: In a stretch of 17 games, nine are against teams now ranked in the top 25 nationally.
The Penn women could be expected to struggle against the bigger SC team, and sure enough, close to the hoop, the Women of Troy overpowered the Quakers. Rayah Marshall, a 6-4 sophomore, had a monster game with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks; Kadi Sissoko, a 6-2 grad student from France by way of Syracuse and Minnesota, added 18 points and 11 rebounds. All told, USC racked up 52 rebounds to Penn’s 33, 21 second-chance points to Penn’s five, and 40 points in the paint to Penn’s 30.
Nonetheless, Penn and USC traded the lead — nine times — until the home team ran off 11 straight starting in the middle of the third quarter and held off Penn for the 66-60 victory. The Quakers made more of their shots count (38.3% vs. 35.6% for the Trojans), and they were more effective from deep.
As has been the case all year, senior forward Floor Toonders was integral to the Quakers’ play, again leading in rebounds, with eight, and adding 10 points. And senior guard Mandy McGurk had a good shooting day (5-for-11) for 10 points as well.
Senior guard Kayla Padilla contributed 13 points, six rebounds and five assists in her last trip home to Southern California in a Penn uniform, but she won’t count it as a good day on the court: She shot an un-Padilla-like 4-for-18, including zilch-for-7 from deep. Take that one of two ways: that Padilla’s cold night cost Penn a possible upset win, or that Penn really does have a team capable of beating anyone remaining on its schedule if it plays to its potential.
Next up for the Quakers is a shorter trip, to La Salle (5-2) on Tuesday night, followed by a remarkable 10-game stretch of home games at the Palestra.