Penn women’s basketball bests Maine, 72-69

Bring on the Ivies!
The Penn women’s basketball team came out of a 20-day break for finals and Christmas by beating a strong Maine squad, 72-69, Saturday afternoon at the Palestra.
Freshman point guard Mataya Gayle had the hot hand and dropped 28 points, the highest total in her short college career. But this was a team effort for the Quakers against the Black Bears, and a great game if you just love basketball: The lead changed hands 20 times in 40 minutes, with eight ties. Maine hit five of its last seven shots but had to foul repeatedly to get the ball back, and Penn staved off the charge with clutch free throws.

The game was just what the coaches ordered, a last real challenge before the start of conference play next week. (Penn hosts Gwynedd Mercy on Sunday afternoon, but that’s more a friendly exhibition than a challenge.) Maine’s 7-7 record includes a close loss to No. 17 Indiana and an 18-point beatdown of Harvard, and it figures to contend for the America East title. Penn (7-5) was the preseason fourth pick in the Ivies and looked better than that on Saturday.

The Black Bears looked better at the start, though, riding a string of threes and a 10-0 run to a nine-point lead midway through the first quarter. But the Quakers chipped away, and a long three at the buzzer by freshman Abby Sharpe brought them to within one, 18-17.
Two Maine players had double-doubles, and two others hit double figures. Junior forward Adrianna Smith almost reached the elusive triple-double, in fact, with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Danish guard Caroline Bornemann had 10 rebounds and 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting (4-for-7 on threes). Anne Simon from Luxembourg — half of Maine’s roster is international — sparked Maine’s early lead but got into foul trouble and finished with 17 points. Overall, Maine hit 45% of its shots, stayed about even on rebounds with the taller Penn team and played smart ball, with just 13 turnovers.
Penn prevailed with similar stats — 40% shooting overall and nearly as good, 37%, from outside. Gayle hit 10 of 20, with a flurry of baskets as Penn built a lead in the fourth quarter. Senior forward Jordan Obi picked up 15 points, junior Stina Almqvist 14; senior forward Floor Toonders — getting back in form after an injury kept her off the court early in the season — had six points, eight rebounds and three assists.
After Sunday’s game against Gwynedd Mercy, Penn will start 2024 and its Ivy season with a trip Saturday to Columbia.