PHILADELPHIA - In the Division I head coaching debut for Mike McLaughlin, the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team fought to the very end, but fell to their city six rival, Drexel, 56-42 Sunday afternoon at the Daskalakis Athletic Center.
If there is one thing the Quakers showed future opponents in this game, it is their unrelenting resolve. Penn (0-1) played a full 40 minutes of tenacious, scrappy basketball. In fact, the Red and Blue played some of their most inspired basketball when the rest of the arena thought the game was out of hand.
Against one of last season's NCAA Tournament qualifiers, the Quakers found themselves in an early hole. Senior Sarah Bucar had the team's first basket of the season to tie the game at 2-2 a minute and a half into the game, but Penn managed just two baskets from junior Jerin Smith over the next nine minutes and was down 15-6 near the midway point of the first half.
However, after Smith hit another jumper, junior Kim Adams scored on back-to-back possessions to close the deficit to 15-12 with 6:51 to go. Drexel (1-1) once again tried to stretch the lead as Kamile Nacickaite hit two straight threes to regain the nine-point edge, 23-14 with 4:55 to go in the half.
A free throw by sophomore Jess Knapp, who started in the first game of her career after missing all of last season to due to injury, a three-pointer by Bucar and a layup by Adams got the Quakers to within 25-20 in the final minute before going to the locker room down 27-20.
Similar to the problems of the 2008-09 team, the Quakers went through a long scoring drought and unfortunately found themselves facing a 17-point deficit six minutes into the second half. Penn managed just five free throws before Smith scored the team's first field goal of the half with 12:19 to go in the game.
But with Smith's basket, Penn found new life as an aggressive defensive effort forced Drexel into several turnovers and a timeout as Penn was within 41-29 with 11:13 left. However, with momentum clearly shifting toward the Quakers, Taylor Wootton knocked down a jumper to steal it away. Drexel then extended the lead to its biggest of the day, 48-29 with just over seven minutes remaining.
With Penn all but out of the game, the Quakers showed their resilency - pressuring Drexel into bad shots, diving on the floor for loose balls and closing the gap to 12 points in the meantime. But time ran out on the Red and Blue, falling by 14 to the defending Colonial Athletic Conference champions and preseason CAA favorites.
Penn forced 10 first half turnovers and 14 in the game, but it was the offensive rebounding of the Dragons hurt the Quakers throughout the contest. In all, Drexel had 17 offensive rebounds and won the rebounding battle, 45-34. Penn held Marginean, who was the nation's third-leading scorer last season to 6-of-19 shooting as the Dragons managed to go just 6-of-24 from three-point range. Without Nacickaite's five three's, Drexel shot just 1-of-15 from beyond the arc.
The Quakers shot 30.6 percent from the floor, but were 1-of-9 on three-point attempts and just 61 percent from the free throw line despite making 18 trips to the stripe. Bucar led the team with 10 points, while Adams and Smith each added nine points and a team-high seven rebounds. Five different Quakers had a steal and every player with significant minutes had at least one rebound.
Penn won't have to wait long for a chance to rebound from the loss, but it won't be easy. The Red and Blue will have another short trip as they visit Villanova on Wednesday at the Pavilion. Tip off is at 7 p.m.
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