PHILADELPHIA - An ACC opponent rarely comes to The Palestra. We found out why on Monday. And after the effort from the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team, where they came agonizingly close to an upset of Virginia, 68-65, it may be a long time before another attempts it.
Penn (0-2) led by as many as 15 early in the second half, but the ACC opponent - ranked just outside the Top 25 - clawed its way back and ended up on top in a frenetic back-and-forth ending.
The Quakers were up 63-62 with 2:27 to play when Virginia scored to go on top by one. Just 18 seconds later, junior Alyssa Baron hit jumper to put Penn back up a point. But 10 seconds after that, the Cavaliers dropped in another to change the lead again. Virginia finally came up with a stop and then scored to go ahead, 68-65, with 36 seconds remaining.
Sophomore Kathleen Roche's three-point attempt was tipped and Virginia corralled the loose ball and eventually called a timeout. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Quakers forced a jump ball and regained possession with 9.7 seconds left. Roche had another shot to tie the game, but under tight pressure, it was off the mark as time expired.
In their first-ever trip to the Cathedral of College Basketball - and just the second ACC team to visit Penn's home (Georgia Tech, 1982) - the Cavaliers scored first. But it was their only lead of the game until the 4:20 mark of the second half.
Penn scored the next five and slowly built up a lead. The Quakers scored seven straight behind a three from 2010-11 Ivy Rookie of the Year, Alyssa Baron, who finished with a team-high 21 points, and back-to-back buckets from 2011-12 Big 5 Rookie of the Year, Kara Bonenberger, who added 14 points. That put Penn up 14-6 just six minutes into the contest.
The Red and Blue maintained that margin and traded baskets over the next several minutes. But another quick 7-0 run, started by a jumper from junior Courtney Wilson and ended with a Baron layup, had the Quakers up 28-14 with 5:07 left until the half.
The lead grew to 15, 33-18, on a rebound and put-back from Roche and the Quakers held a 12-point edge at intermission, 35-23.
Virginia came out strong in the second half, but, as was the case throughout the night, Penn remained unintimated. The teams went basket-for-basket for the first five minutes of the half.
However, the Cavaliers, who reached the NIT last season and were picked to finish in the top half of the ACC this year, finally made a run. They scored eight straight to close to within 45-42 with 12:30 to play.
But Penn refused to concede its lead. The intensity inside the building rose as both offenses traded buckets. Over a seven-minute span, Penn never led by more than five, but Virginia was never closer than two.
Finally, it was the Cavaliers who broke through with a game-tying three with 6:23 to go, 54-54. Penn scoreed on its next possesion though, a layup from Bonenberger, and held on to the lead until a three-point play put Virginia up 57-56 with 4:20 remaining.
Again, the Quakers were undaunted. They scored on their next possession. And when Baron converted a fastbreak layup with an assist from sophomore Katy Allen, Penn led 61-57 with 3:12 left.
With the lead still at four, Virginia converted a three-point play to pull within 63-62 at the 2:27 mark and spark the wild ending.
Baron, who played all 40 minutes, also had a game-high nine rebounds and added five assists and two steals. McCullough also played every minute and finished with a game-high six assists - which matched a career best. She also had five points and two steals. Allen had a game-high four steals in addition to four assists, three rebounds and seven points. Bonenberger tacked on another six rebounds. Roche reached double digits for the second time in her career with 10 points and matched a career high with five rebounds. Freshman Keiera Ray had six points off the bench.
Penn was 24-of-57 (42.1%) from the floor, while the Cavaliers were 25-of-59 (42.4%), including 53 percent in the second half. The Quakers made seven threes to Virginia's two, but the visitors won the rebounding battle, 40-28. Penn forced 19 turnovers, including 10 steals. The Quakers turned it over 15 times, but had 17 assists.
Next, Penn has a little more time than the two days it had to prepare for Virginia. The Quakers don't play again until Sunday when they head to West Point, N.Y. Tip off against Army is at 1 p.m. This is the second trip to Army in the last three seasons and the third straight season the Quakers have faced the Black Knights. The team's split the last two meetings with the home team claiming victory each time.
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