Italian opera has nothing on Ivy women’s basketball this year, with the second half of the season turning into a revenge tour for the first half. In this case, the Quakers had strong, painful memories of their visit to Boston just two weeks earlier, when Harvard poured in the outside shots and filleted the Penn zone with passes down low for easy buckets in an 84-60 rout. It was Harvard at its best — a better game, really, than its New Year’s Eve upset of Princeton — and Penn at its flat-footed worst.
Passion! Great performances! Revenge! You could enjoy them all on the radio — the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday broadcast had “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” — or you could find them at the Palestra in West Philly, where the Penn women took down Harvard, 70-64.
The Penn team that struggled at Harvard was nowhere to be seen in Philadelphia. Instead, the Quakers shot 55% from the field, including 48% on threes, and steadily built a lead that could withstand a final Crimson rush. Harvard was limited to 35% from the field, including 28% from deep.
As for great performances, Penn’s star soprano (but never a diva) was once again senior guard Kayla Padilla, whose four threes in five tries were crucial in building the Penn lead. All told, she posted 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting and handed out eight assists.
The rising young star — the ingenue — at Penn this season is freshman Simone Sawyer, who took nothing but threes and hit five of 12 for 15 points. Floor Toonders, the 6-foot-4 junior forward, scored 11 on 5-for-7 shooting mostly by getting herself open down low for sharp passes and easy buckets — though she hit a three as well. By this point, Toonders’ threes are no surprise: She has a better percentage on them — 39.3% — than any other Penn starter, even though she remains a liability at the free-throw line, at 27.8%.
And forward Jordan Obi notched a double-double, 11 rebounds and 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting; she also provided much of the passion, racking up six fouls — yes, that’s right, because her disgust over her fifth foul with just over a minute left in the game brought on an unsportsmanlike conduct call. That heightened the drama for the final stretch.
Penn had been ahead by 17 with just 4:35 left, when Padilla hit a layup. From that point on, the Quakers mostly played to run the clock — but failed to score a basket. The lead was still fairly comfortable at 13 points when Harvard’s high-scoring guard Harmoni Turner missed a jump shot with 1:18 left, but Obi lost the ball to Harvard’s Lola Mullaney and then fouled her when she scored on a put-back and bumped her after the whistle. Three foul shots later, Harvard had the ball and trailed by eight. When the ball went to Toonders, Harvard alertly fouled her — she missed both shots — and Turner scored in the paint to cut the lead to six. From there it was a drawn-out procession of timeouts, fouls and free throws, but the lead never dropped below four points, and Penn locked up the win.
Harvard actually led after the fast-moving first quarter, but just by three points, 18-15, and Penn played its more methodical game and shut down the Crimson in the second, holding it to seven points on 2-for-12 shooting. For Harvard, the highlights included its work on the offensive boards — 14 rebounds versus two for Penn, and 16 second-chance points versus two for Penn.
Mullaney had 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting, and Elena Rodriguez — who simply clobbered Penn in their previous matchup — had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Turner scored 14, a relatively quiet day for the Ivies’ second-leading scorer.
A note on Padilla: With 1,228 points, she has moved into ninth place in the Penn women’s record books, and she is on course to add 100 more before she graduates, which would bump her up to seventh.
Now consider that COVID canceled one of the years she had planned to spend wearing red and blue, and you can appreciate the magnitude of her play at Penn. She might have surpassed everyone but Diana Caramanico, who dominated the court from the moment she arrived in 1997 and holds the Ivy scoring record with 2,415 points. Padilla is likely to take a victory lap with a season as a graduate student at a school closer to her home in Southern California — maybe USC — before using her Wharton degree in other ways.
With the win, Penn moves into a tie with Harvard with a 7-3 record in the conference, just behind Columbia and Princeton at 8-2. Everyone has a few days off before a full Ivy weekend: Penn travels to Yale and Brown, and Harvard hosts Columbia and Cornell.
And revenge will be on the agenda in every one of those games.