Penn heads to NCAA women's tournament with 57-48 win over Princeton in Ivy final

Ivy League basketball tournament at the Palestra-12032017-0002
Penn women's basketball coach Mike McLaughlin celebrates after cutting down the net at the Palestra.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin had a front-row seat for almost every minute of the five Ivy League tournament games that preceded the women's final. He watched a weekend full of tight finishes, big shots, and drama.

When his team's turn came Sunday evening, there was almost none of that.

With the tournament's most outstanding player, Michelle Nwokedi, and hot-shooting guard Anna Ross leading the way, the Quakers (21-7) rolled to a 57-48 win over Princeton at the Palestra.

"The journey is to 14 games, and we won the regular season - that's what I'm most proud of," McLaughlin said. "But there's no doubt we wanted to do what we just did out there on our home floor."

Princeton (16-12) stayed close in the first quarter, which ended 15-14 thanks to a late three-pointer by Gabrielle Rush. But the second quarter was a blowout, as Penn outscored the Tigers, 14-4 - including a 12-0 run that lasted through the quarter's first eight minutes.

"Defense is what this team lays their heads on every night," McLaughlin said. "They want to play, they want to win, and they know how to do it."

The Quakers didn't let up in the third quarter. Nwokedi opened the period with consecutive three-pointers and ended it with consecutive blocks, helping Penn to a 45-30 lead at the horn.

Princeton tried to make a run in the fourth quarter, cutting a 17-point deficit to eight with one minute, 6 seconds to go. But the Tigers made just one field goal the rest of the way, while Penn ran the clock down and made enough free throws to seal the win.

Nwokedi finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and three assists. Ross was Penn's top scorer with 17 points and added four assists. Bella Alarie led Princeton with 11 points.

All three were named to the all-tournament team, along with Princeton's Leslie Robinson and Brown's Shayna Mehta and Erika Steeves.

That Ross led Penn in scoring is no small thing given the interior dominance of Nwokedi and center Sydney Stipanovich. Ross spent much of this season as a pass-first guard instead of a shooter. But since the beginning of February, she has been much more willing to let it fly. Her 13 field-goal attempts and seven makes Sunday tied season highs.

"I did need a friendly reminder halfway through the season: 'Get your head in it. You're not being you, you're not playing the way you play and can play,' " Ross said. That message definitely got through.

Penn's win gave it three victories in a season over its perennial rival for the first time ever, and back-to-back NCAA tournament trips for the first time ever. It will be the third time in four years that seniors Sydney Stipanovich, Kasey Chambers, and Jackie Falconer are on the big stage.

"We're going to play as long as we can," Stipanovich said. "We have no doubt that we can go out there and get a win or even more."

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