Penn senior guard Antonio Woods has long had a passion for playing defense

“Ever since the fourth grade,” Woods said recently. Fourth grade?

“I remember our AAU coach said, ‘Get on the line,’ and we were basically doing defensive slides all practice,” Woods said.

That didn’t sound like a lot of fun. “Maybe back then it wasn’t fun, but I have to thank him now,” Woods said.

The coach was Ricardo Hill, currently the head coach at Walnut Hills High in Cincinnati.

Antonio Woods of Penn warms up before the game against Harvard on Feb. 16.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Antonio Woods of Penn warms up before the game against Harvard on Feb. 16.

These days Woods and junior Devon Goodman form one of the top defensive backcourts in the Ivy League. In fact, it might be one of the better overall guard tandems.

“I love the challenge of trying to stop a talented offensive player,” Woods said.

The 6-foot-1 Woods, who hails from Cincinnati, hasn’t abandoned his offensive skills, either. He is averaging 9.6 points but is more concerned with setting up others on offense.

Woods does a little bit of everything. He is second on the team in rebounding, averaging 4.8 per game. He is also second on the team in assists (2.8) and minutes (33 per game).

Last season as a starting guard for the Ivy League Tournament champs, Woods averaged 7.7 points in 28.2 minutes. He also played his usual strong defense.

While more than willing to take the clutch three-pointer, Woods has some trick shots in his arsenal. He used one in Friday’s 82-79 overtime win over Dartmouth, scoring on an underhanded scoop shot with his opposite (left) hand.

“That is one of the trick shots I work on,” he said, laughing. “I work a lot, taking off-balanced shots in difficult situations.”

Antonio Woods of Penn goes up for a basket during their 77-70 victory over Temple at the Liacouras Center on Jan. 19.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Antonio Woods of Penn goes up for a basket during their 77-70 victory over Temple at the Liacouras Center on Jan. 19.

Penn (15-9, 3-5 Ivy League) finds itself in a difficult situation in qualifying for the four-team Ivy League tournament. The Quakers are two games behind the fourth spot with six to play.

Woods understands the difficult task, but says the Quakers’ resolve shouldn’t be minimized.

“We are a gritty team. We don’t win in an easy way,” he said. “We make it hard on ourselves, and from this point, we have to take it a game at a time.”

And for Woods, one defensive stop at a time.

Antonio Woods, center, and the Penn team huddling before their game against Harvard on Feb. 16.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Antonio Woods, center, and the Penn team huddling before their game against Harvard on Feb. 16.