The women’s basketball team faced its toughest two-game home slate of the season with a double-header against Penn and Princeton this weekend. The Quakers (15-7, 8-1 Ivy) were undefeated in conference play and held the number one spot in the Ivy League going into Friday’s game. The test was no easier for the Bears (14-9, 5-5 Ivy) Saturday against second-place Princeton (13-9, 7-2), which was on a six game winning streak before the weekend contest.
The Bears flirted with wins in both matchups but fell to the Ivy League cream-of-the crop twice in the weekend’s action.
Bruno began Friday’s game by launching an offensive blitzkrieg on the unsuspecting Quakers early. The Bears shot 4-5 from three and poured in 28 points in the first quarter, matching their previous season high. Penn tallied only 13 points in the opening quarter.
“The biggest thing for us was just playing loose, playing our style … we knew we had nothing to lose, really, and that’s when we play our best,” said forward Erika Steeves ’19. “We just lit it up in the first quarter, which is what we’re capable of doing,” she added.
After raining in 28 in the opening ten minutes, the Bears failed to eclipse 17 points in any of the following stanzas.
Penn nailed back-to-back threes and forced Brown into bad shots to cut the lead to 34-29 in the second quarter. Then, an elbow jumper by a wide open Princeton’s Princess Aghayere cut the lead to three.
Penn gave Brown fits on the offensive glass. Quaker junior Michelle Nwokedi grabbed eight offensive boards in the game en route to a 21-12 double-double. As a team, Bruno snagged only seven offensive rebounds.
Still, Bruno led at the halftime break with a score of 39-33 over the league-leading Quakers.
In the third quarter, Penn continued to dominate in the low post, drawing mismatches and finishing layups. With about five minutes to play in the third act, back-to-back blocks by Penn led to a deep arching three by the Quakers, cutting Bruno’s lead to one.
Penn later hit a transition three after a turnover. Then, Anna Ross of the Quakers picked off an errant Brown pass and drove to the hoop for an and one. Ross converted the three-point play to give Penn its first lead of the game, 50-49.
“We didn’t stay composed at the right times. We were a little bit frantic in the third quarter,” said captain Megan Reilly ’18.
As has been the case all season, Bruno showed a willingness to get on the floor and fight for possession. In the final play of the quarter, Shayna Mehta ’19 showed tremendous effort by picking off an inbound pass and laying it in to cut the deficit. Penn led Brown 53-51 going into the final ten minutes of action.
The game stayed tight in the fourth as the two foes swapped the lead several times. The contest was knotted at 68 with 1:05 to play.
Brown was able to stay in the game thanks to Steeves, who rolled her ankle in the third quarter but got it taped up and played the remainder of the game. She scored ten in the final quarter on 6-6 shooting from the field.
Earlier in the week, Steeves said that assistant coach Danielle Pearson was telling her that shooting was all about confidence. After nailing two of her first three long-range efforts in the first quarter, Steeves had the early hot hand. She notched a career-high 27 points on 10-14 shooting, including five threes.
Steeves attributes some of her success to the game plan. She said that the team prepared for Penn’s zone defense all week. In order to get open shots, the Bears would have to find space in the high post and knock down mid-range jumpers.
They did just that. “They have some really tall girls in there so we knew getting easy layups would be hard, but the jumpers are open and so are the threes,” Steeves said.
But Steeves’ gritty effort was not enough for the Bears, and the Quakers escaped with a 71-68 win.
“We know that we could hang in there with them, so we just got to keep our heads up and stay confident, and hopefully we get to see them again in the tournament,” Reilly said.
“That’s the best we’ve played Penn in several years,” said Head Coach Sarah Behn. “I feel like we had the game and just let it slip in the last couple minutes.”
“I don’t really love moral victories; I’d rather have a real victory, but there’s definitely some … progress and growth going on with my young team. I think we gained confidence even though we lost,” she added.
The next day’s game proved as big of a challenge for the Bears. Princeton came into the Pizzitola Sports Center Saturday having not lost a game since January 13, when Brown bested them at home in a 98-88 shootout.
The game was competitive from the outset, and Brown kept it close thanks to seven consecutive points by Taylor Will ’19 in the first quarter. Bruno trailed 22-17 after the first stanza.
Brown was always playing catch-up from there. In the second quarter, Justine Gaziano ’20 drew it level with a three. Then, after a 15-7 run by the Tigers, the Bears clawed their way back to tie the game at 37 apiece. Princeton took a 41-39 advantage into the second half.
Bruno came out sluggish after halftime, and the Tigers outscored the Bears 20-11 in the third quarter.
Janie White ’18 had her hands full on the defensive end with Bella Alarie and Leslie Robinson. But she stepped up admirably, blocking two shots and grabbing two steals in just 12 minutes of play.
Down by 11 with 5:38 to play in the game, Behn instituted a full-court press. Bruno’s relentless defensive effort yielded five steals in the final quarter and sliced the lead to two with 1:38 to play in the game.
“We had to do something to change the momentum,” Behn said. “I was proud of the kids that we fought back, found a way to make it a game and even had a chance to pull it out.”
But Princeton fended off the Brown comeback and grabbed their seventh straight Ivy League win with an 81-75 victory.
Gaziano led all players with 24 points, and Mehta added 21 of her own.
The loss moved Brown to 5-5 in the conference, putting them in a tie for fourth place, the final spot for a postseason tournament bid.
While it is never good to leave a weekend with two losses, Behn is hopeful.
“This is a journey we’re on,” she said. “Overall, it’s not the result I wanted but it’s definitely steps forward as we close the gap on the top teams in the conference.”
The Bears have just four more regular season games. Next week, Bruno will host its final home double header against Dartmouth (6-17, 1-9) and Harvard (19-4, 7-3).