PHILADELPHIA - Junior Alyssa Baron's 1,000th career point came at a huge moment as the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team held off La Salle, 65-56, in the Big 5 opener for both teams Friday night at The Palestra.
Penn (1-3, 1-0 Big 5) earned its first victory of the season as all four games have been decided by single digits. The Quakers are alone atop the Big 5 standings as La Salle falls to 1-6 overall and 0-1 in the historic Philadelphia basketball conference.
Baron became the third-fastest Quaker to reach 1,000 career points (60 games) at an important juncture of the Big 5 contest. La Salle led for just 19 seconds in the first half and took its largest lead of the game, 46-44, with 8:37 to play. But that last just 13 seconds when Baron sunk her milestone basket with a go-ahead three-pointer. Penn never trailed again.
Except for a brief moment at the end of the contest, Penn led by single digits throughout the entire contest. Sophomore Kara Bonenberger had 10 of Penn's first 12 points and single-handedly had the Quakers up 12-6 just six minutes into the contest. But she would receive a lot of help offensively the rest of the way.
La Salle tied the game at 18-18 at the 6:10 mark of the opening half, but sophomore Renee Busch and freshman Rayne Connell hit back-to-back threes for a six-point edge. The Quakers had built the lead without their leading scorer, but Baron knocked home her first basket of the night at the end of the half - a three that gave the Red and Blue a 29-21 advantage heading into the break.
It was a long process, but La Salle slowly chipped away. Over a six-minute span, Penn never relinquished the lead, but was never ahead by more than two possessions. La Salle finally tied the game at 44-44 with 9:03 to go and went on top for that brief moment before Baron's three changed momentum.
After Baron's historic basket, junior Courtney Wilson scored on back-to-back trips and the quakers led 51-46 with 6:58 to play. The teams shared a few baskets before Wilson hit a free throw and Busch connected on another three for a 57-51 edge with 3:21 remaining.
Baron then blocked a three, was fouled in the race for the loose ball and sunk two free throws. That all but sealed the game as the Quakers hit their free throws and salted away the final few minutes.
The win was the second straight over La Salle at The Palestra and marked the first Big 5 win since that victory over the Explorers on Jan. 19, 2011. Penn had gone five seasons without a Big 5 win, but under head coach Mike McLaughlin, the Quakers snapped a 24-game losing streak and have two wins in the last two years with three more Big 5 matchups left this season.
Bonenberger finished with a team-high 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Baron finished just shy of a double-double. Fittingly, in the game in which she scored her 1,000th career point, she added a career-high nine assists and had just one turnover with 15 points in 37 minutes. Busch was 4-for-4 from three for 13 points, while freshman Keiera Ray added seven points and a team-best eight rebounds. All seven of Wilson's points came down the stretch as she added a career-best and game-high four blocks.
Penn shot 46 percent (23-of-50) to La Salle's 30 percent (18-of-60). Both teams were efficient from beyond the arc as Penn was 7-of-18 (38.9%) and La Salle was 8-of-18 (44.4%). The Quakers had 19 assists to 10 for the visitors. Penn also had just 10 turnovers to La Salle's 14. The Explorers won the rebounding battle, 41-34, which included 19 offensive rebounds.
Penn played without junior Meghan McCullough for the first time since the 2009-10 season finale - a span of 59 straight games. McCullough was injured during Penn's game at Army on Nov. 18 and she is expected to miss the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign.
Baron, who had played with McCullough in all 59 of her
career games prior to Friday, is now No. 18 in scoring all-time at Penn
with 1,005 career points. She passed Colleen Kelly (1995-98), who
finished with exactly 1,000 points in her Red and Blue career.
Penn has a busy stretch coming up before the holiday
break. The Red and Blue host Bucknell for the first time since 2000 on
Monday at 7 p.m. Then its a pair of games in New York City, the first
against St. Francis (N.Y.) on Wednesday and the next against LIU on
Sunday, Dec. 9.
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