PHILADELPHIA - For the second time in three nights, the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team brought a formidable Big 5 rival down to the wire on the road. But for the second straight game, the Quakers fell agonizingly short in a 60-52 loss at Saint Joseph's on Friday night.
The Hawks (13-4, 3-0 Big 5) clinched a share of the Big 5 title while the Quakers (8-5, 1-2 Big 5), who lost by one at Villanova on Wednesday, were eliminated from city championship contention.
Saint Joseph's went up 50-45 after a strange sequence. The Quakers led by one, 45-44, with 5:39 to play and had the ball. Junior Kara Bonenberger, who was the only Penn player in double figures with a game-high 17 points, elbowed the Hawks defender on her turn to the basket. It was ruled an intentional foul. Bonenberger then picked up a technical foul - her fifth. That gave the Hawks four free throws - they made all of them - and the ball - they scored on a layup and went up five.
As they have done all year, the Quakers fought back. A 19-point deficit against Drexel turned into the largest comeback in school history on Dec. 1. A double-digit lead evaporated into a four-point deficit with 90 seconds left at Miami on New Years Day, but turned into the program's first-ever win over an ACC opponent.
And on Friday, after that huge swing in momentum - on the road against a Big 5 rival and just two days removed from a hard-fought, heartbreaking loss - the Quakers rallied themselves again.
Immediately after the Hawks went up five, senior Meghan McCullough buried a three from the wing - almost identical to the one she hit at Miami to jump-start that late, come-from-behind win.
After a defensive stop, freshman Stephanie Cheney sunk two clutch free throws and so, within 39 seconds of that devastating turn of events, the Quakers were tied with the Hawks again, 50-50.
Nearly three minutes went by before the Hawks went up two, 52-50 at the 1:50 mark. That grew to 54-50 with 1:13 to play, but sophomore Keiera Ray sunk two free throws to make it a two-point game again with 57 seconds left.
However, Saint Joseph's capitalized on a foul and sunk both from the charity stripe to go back up two possessions. After a missed free throw from the Quakers, the Hawks sunk two more and put the game away.
The Quakers defense was stingy throughout. And it started early. Saint Joseph's went the first three minutes without a bucket before two straight threes tied the game at 6-6.
The game remained tied 14-14 near the midway point of the half before an 8-1 spurt from the Quakers. Bonenberger and freshman Sydney Stipanovich combined for all eight points to give the Red and Blue a 22-15 lead with 3:08 left in the half.
The lead grew to 31-21 after senior captain Alyssa Baron hit a three, but the Hawks closed the gap to 31-23 at the break.
Saint Joe's seized momentum early in the second half and within the first three minutes the Penn lead was down to 35-32. The Hawks completed a 14-4 run to retake the lead, 37-35, with 11:58 to play.
In a game with nine lead changes, the Quakers answered right back. Bonenberger scored six of Penn's next eight points to put the Red and Blue up 43-42 with 7:07 left. Saint Joe's answered, but moments later, junior Renee Busch came off the bench to knock down a go-ahead, mid-range jumper. That gave the Quakers their final lead, 45-44, and led into Bonenberger's two fouls.
Inside the Numbers
Bonenberger was 8-of-15 from the floor for her season-high 17 points. Baron had six points, seven rebounds and four assists, while McCullough also filled the box score with five points, five rebounds and four assists. Off the bench, Stipanovich had six points, eight rebounds and five blocks before fouling out in 17 minutes. Ray added seven points and three boards.
Penn was 21-of-63 (33.3%) from the floor and just 3-of-16 (18.8%) from beyond the arc. Saint Joseph's was 20-of-63 (31.7%) overall and 4-of-13 (30.8%) from three. The Hawks held a slight edge, 44-42, on the boards.
Penn wraps up the non-league schedule next week. On Wednesday, the Quakers are at Temple (7 p.m.) for the last Big 5 game of the year and then Saturday's matchup against NJIT at The Palestra (5 p.m.) ends the non-conference season for Penn. Next Saturday's game against the Highlanders is a doubleheader with the men.
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