PHILADELPHIA - Once again, the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team went toe-to-toe with a major conference opponent. And once again, they trailed by one with the ball and under 10 seconds to play. But the Quakers could not duplicate the heroics from the program's first-ever ACC win just two weeks ago at Miami, and fell to Big 5 rival Villanova, 55-54, at The Pavilion on Wednesday night.
Penn had two shots in the final seconds as senior captain Alyssa Baron missed a tough running jumper in the lane and freshman Sydney Stipanovich's contested putback also found iron. The first road loss of the season snapped Penn's school record eight-game non-conference win streak and dropped the Quakers to 8-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big 5.
Stipanovich gave the Quakers the lead, 54-53, with a pair of free throws with 1:58 to go. Villanova responded with the go-ahead basket at the 1:00 mark. Following a missed jumper, Stipanovich corralled the loose ball and Penn retained possession. That gave the Quakers the option for the last shot, but a road win over the Big East foe was not to be.
In a series dominated by the Wildcats -- Penn has won just two of the 41 meetings -- and in a building detested by the Red and Blue -- Penn had lost the last three meetings at The Pavilion by an average of 25.8 points per game -- the Quakers were unfazed by the opponent, atmosphere and the history. They played fearless throughout the night.
It showed early. The Wildcats jumped out to a 9-4 lead, but Penn made an early statement when Bonenberger and Baron alternated baskets throughout a 9-0 run for a 13-9 lead midway through the first half.
That run extended to 12-2 after senior captain Meghan McCullough hit the first of her two threes for a 16-11 advantage with 9:35 to go in the half.
Villanova (13-3, 3-1 Big 5) scored six straight and the teams traded the lead down the stretch. But sophomore Keiera Ray hit two free throws in the final minute to give Penn a 29-27 lead at the break.
The Quakers delivered an early blow to start the second half with a 9-2 run in the first five minutes. Baron hit a jumper, junior Kara Bonenberger had back-to-back buckets and McCullough's three from the wing gave Penn a 38-31 advantage.
But the Wildcats stormed back on their home court and tied the game at 42-42. At the 9:55 mark, Villanova reclaimed the lead at 48-47.
The deficit grew to 53-48 with 5:25 remaining, but the Quakers refused to surrender. Penn held Villanova without a bucket for the next four minutes and eventually retook the lead on Stipanovich's free throws.
Inside the Numbers
Baron was one rebound shy of a double-double for the second time in a week and led the team with 16 points. Bonenberger finished with 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, while McCullough added eight points, three assists and two steals. Allen had a team-high four assists and matched Baron with a game-high nine rebounds. Penn was 21-of-56 (37.5%) from the field and just 3-of-17 (17.6%) from three-point range. Villanova connected on 22-of-57 (38.6%) overall and made nine of their 31 three-point attempts (29.0%). Penn held the rebounding edge, 37-34.
*Penn has now lost four games this season to teams with a combined record of 50-10 (.833).
*Penn won its first four road games to tie a school record. No Penn team has ever started the season 5-0 in true road games.
*Penn is now 21-4 over the last two seasons when leading at the half and 6-2 this year (other loss was in the season opener to St. Francis Brooklyn).
*Baron has now started all 99 games of her career.
*This was the first one-point game in this series since a near-identical 54-53 loss at The Pavilion exactly 30 years ago to the day.
*Penn lost for the first time in 20 games when outrebounding their opponent (last loss was at Cornell on Feb. 17, 2012).
Its a quick turnaound for the Quakers, who will have another Big 5 matchup in less than 48 hours. Tip off at Saint Joseph's is Friday at 7 p.m. Penn is then at Temple on Wednesday, Jan. 22 (7 p.m.) before the final non-conference game of the year against NJIT at The Palestra on Jan. 25 (5 p.m.).