PHILADELPHIA - Senior Night ended in an unprecedented accomplishment for the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team and set up a de facto Ivy League championship game. The Quakers slid past Cornell, 50-43, on Saturday night at The Palestra to clinch the first back-to-back postseason appearances in program history, and on Tuesday, the Quakers will play for the Ivy League title.
Penn (21-6, 11-2 Ivy) and Princeton (20-7, 11-2 Ivy) are both tied atop the Ivy standings and face each other in the season finale at Jadwin Gym on Tuesday (5:30 p.m.). The winner earns the outright Ivy League title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The loser has already clinched second place and therefore, an automatic berth in the WNIT.
Penn's four senior captains Kristen Kody, Alyssa Baron, Courtney Wilson and Meghan McCullough were all honored before the game (see below for a lengthy list of all their accomplishments as a group). Kody, who missed the entire season with an ACL injury, was in uniform for the first time this season, while the three healthy seniors were all in the starting lineup.
But it was Cornell that jumped out to the early lead. The Big Red led through the first five minutes before four straight points from freshman Sydney Stipanovich gave the Quakers a 9-7 lead at the 13:04 mark.
Cornell, which finished the season at 14-14 overall and 6-8 in Ivy play, quickly took the lead back and then used a 7-0 run for a 22-14 advantage with 4:39 left in the half.
Penn, which has won seven straight home games for the first time since the 2002-04 seasons, was able to get to within five at the break, 26-21.
En route to the second-most wins in school history, Penn has relied on strong post play and stingy defense. That's exactly what the Quakers rallied on in the second half. Stipanovich and junior Kara Bonenberger combined for six of the half's first eight points to get Penn within 28-27 at the 17:54 mark.
After trading buckets for the next several minutes, freshman Melanie Lockett made a driving layup to tie the game and then junior Renee Busch converted a fastbreak layup to lift Penn into the lead, 35-33, with 12:05 remaining.
Cornell closed to within 36-35 at the 11:24 mark and then went nearly 10 minutes without another point. The Quakers held the Big Red to 6-of-34 (17.6%) shooting in the second half.
Meanwhile, Penn scored the next 13 points. Wilson who had a strong outing for the second night in a row, combined with fellow senior captain, McCullough, for seven points in that stretch and the Quakers grabbed a commanding, 49-35, lead with 3:08 to play.
Cornell finally broke its scoreless drought, but it was too late to catch the Quakers who have posted 11 Ivy wins for just the third time in program history.
Inside the Numbers
Wilson, who made her second career start, finished with four points, two rebounds and two blocks. Senior captain Alyssa Baron, who has started every game since stepping on campus four years ago, played in her 114th game to extend her school record. The program's second all-time leading scorer finished with just five points in the home finale, but led Penn in rebounding (eight), assists (five) and steals (three).
McCullough finished with six points, four rebounds and three steals. The Ivy League assists leader dished five more tonight and surpassed 200 for her career. It was the 10th time this season she's had at least five in a game.
Stipanovich finished with 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench and added three blocks -- which increased her school-record season total to 96 and moved her into a tie for second-most blocks in a single season in Ivy history. Busch added six points on 2-of-3 shooting in 11 minutes and Lockett finished with four key points.
Penn ranks third in the nation in field goal percentage defense (34.0%) and held Cornell to a combined 16-of-62 (25.8%) from the field and 3-of-16 (18.8%) from three. Penn was 19-of-48 (39.6%) overall, but 10-of-20 (50%) in the second half after a slow start. The Quakers bench outscored the Big Red reserves, 23-0, and Penn outrebounded Cornell, 39-38.
As is Ivy League tradition, the Penn and Princeton matchups serve as the first and last games of the league schedule. This year’s season finale is at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym and also serves as the Ivy League championship. It is the first game of a doubleheader as the men’s teams are set to start at 8 p.m.
THANK YOU SENIORS!
It was Senior Night for four accomplished Quakers—Kristen Kody, Alyssa Baron, Courtney Wilson and Meghan McCullough. The season prior to their arrival, Penn went 2-26. Since then, the Class of 2014 has won 63 games and set a plethora of milestones:
- First two postseason wins in program history and first postseason berth since 2003-04.
- First back-to-back postseason appearances in program history.
- Just Penn’s fifth Senior Class with more than 60 career wins (63).
- Second 20-win season in the 44-year history of the program.
- Second-most wins (21 in 2013-14) and third-most wins in school history (18 in 2012-13).
- Most non-conference wins in school history (10 in 2013-14) and second-most non-conference win in school history (9 in 2012-13).
- Second-longest winning streak in school history (9 in 2013-14) and third-longest winning streak in school history (8 in 2013-14).
- First 10-win Ivy season since 2003-04 and just the fourth 10-win Ivy season in school history (2013-14).
- Tied for second-most Ivy wins in school history (11 in 2013-14).
- School record eight-game non-conference winning streak (2013-14).
- Posted the program’s largest single-season turnaround as freshmen.
- Snapped 24-game and six-year Big 5 losing streak as freshmen.
- Matched school record with two Big 5 wins in same season (2013-14).
- First season with two Big 5 road games in school history (2013-14).
- Four career Big 5 wins matches school record with Senior Classes from 1983, 1984 and 2005.
- Recorded program’s first-ever win over an ACC opponent (at Miami on Jan. 1, 2014).
- Snapped a string of seven straight losing seasons and posted first back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-05.
- Second Senior Class to improve win total each year (only other class was last year, 2012-13).
- Best 10-game start in school history (8-2 in 2013-14).
- Snapped a 17-game and nine-year losing streak to Harvard and has won three of the last four over the Crimson.
- Largest comeback in school history (19 points vs. Drexel on Dec. 21, 2013) and second-largest comeback in school history (18 points at St. Francis Brooklyn on Dec. 5, 2012).
There are plenty more—as well as a plethora of individual accomplishments for each—but as a group, the Senior Class of 2014 will go down as one of the most successful in school history. And they aren’t done yet.