PHILADELPHIA - For the first time in program history, the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team left Tom Gola Arena with a win. It was decisive as the Quakers led their Big 5 opener for nearly the entire game and topped La Salle, 64-54, on Monday night.
Penn's first win of the season marked several other milestones. It was the program's first road win over La Salle since 1973-74 and the first back-to-back wins over the Explorers in nearly 40 years (1973-75). The Quakers have now won Big 5 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003-04 and 2004-05. It was also the program's largest margin of victory in a Big 5 road game.
Senior Alyssa Baron had a team-high 23 in Penn's largest Big 5 win in 14 years. She had 14 of those in the second half as the Quakers pulled away. Penn led by seven at the break and by as many as 17 in the closing minutes.
La Salle (2-4, 0-2 Big 5) scored first and led 4-3, but after Baron scored underneath to put Penn up 5-4 with 16:42 left in the first half, the Explorers never led again.
That bucket sparked a 10-0 run over the next four minutes. It was capped by a corner three from junior Renee Busch. La Salle closed to within four, but then Penn pushed the tempo and put together seven straight points in just over a minute. Baron hit a jumper, then Melanie Lockett had a fastbreak lay-up and Courtney Wilson's block led to a transition three from Baron and a 24-13 lead with 4:35 left in the half.
The Quakers earned their spot atop the Big 5 standings. The hosts looked to grab momentum several times, but Penn (1-2, 1-0 Big 5) always had an answer. La Salle quickly scored seven of the next nine to get within six, but Lockett came up with a three-point play just before the half and Penn maintained a 29-22 edge at the break.
Then at the start of the second half, La Salle closed to within four. But junior Katy Allen's driving layup was followed by a bucket from Kathleen Roche and the lead was back up to eight, 35-27 with 17:51 to play.
A few minutes later, La Salle was down five, but a steal by Baron led to an Allen fastbreak layup and two straight blocks by freshman Sydney Stipanovich set up Baron's fastbreak three-point play. That put Penn up 42-32 at the 12:49 mark.
The last gasp for the Explorers came with eight minutes left. Penn led by just six, but put together an 8-0 run over the next three minutes and La Salle was never again within single digits.
The lead was as many as 17 after a pair of free throws from junior Kara Bonenberger, who was the second Quaker in double digits with 10 points. La Salle scored the last seven when the game was no longer in doubt, but Penn still finished with its first double digit win over the Explorers in 38 years.
Allen had eight points and led Penn with eight rebounds and three steals. Senior captains Baron and Meghan McCullough each had a team-high five assists. Stipanovich finished with four blocks, four points and five rebounds. Lockett and Busch added five points apiece off the bench.
It was an up-tempo game, both teams got off a lot of shots. Penn held the Explorers to 30.7 percent (23-of-75) shooting for the game, including 3-of-24 (12.5%) from beyond the arc. The Quakers fared much better from the field at 41.9 percent (26-of-62) overall and 4-of-13 (30.8%) from three. La Salle held the slight rebounding advantage at 46-44 and Penn had 20 turnovers to La Salle's 16. The Quakers finished with 16 assists, while the Explorers had just six on the night.
On Thursday, Penn hosts LIU Brooklyn at The Palestra. It will be just the second meeting between the two programs after the Quakers topped the Blackbirds in New York City last season. The game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on the Penn Sports Network.