Women Take Ivy Crown in Basketball

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Second championship in five years under Coach Kelly Greenberg.

By David Porter

Kelly Greenberg has presided over the recent renaissance of the Penn women’s basketball program, a progression that has reached a point where the Quakers no longer have to rely on one star player to lead them. 

“From top to bottom, our team is much more talented,” Greenberg said recently. “Our 15th player now is better than our fifth player several years ago.”

That combination of quality and quantity provided Penn with a winning formula in the recently completed season when it won the second Ivy title in program history, and also the second in five years under Greenberg. The former trait was exemplified by senior Jewel Clark, who finished her career with 1,743 points and lifted her game several levels when it mattered most. The latter came from a cast of supporting players who took turns taking leading roles at key moments.

One of the bigger star turns came at Harvard on Feb. 6 when junior Katie Kilker sank a free throw with five seconds left to help beat the Crimson, 73-72. Greenberg and her staff had focused throughout the off-season on beating Harvard, which had won the Ivy League crown the previous two seasons and had virtually its whole team returning. Penn’s depth proved critical: the Quakers’ bench players outscored Harvard’s by 41-4. A 71-58 win at Dartmouth the next night gave the Quakers a sweep of the league’s toughest road trip and a leg up on the rest of the league. “Any time you win both of those games, you have to be feeling pretty good,” Greenberg said.

Clark’s 23 points and 14 rebounds led the way in the 78-61 win over Dartmouth at the Palestra that clinched the Ivy title, but Greenberg considers the performance of fellow senior Mikaelyn Austin as equally important. Given the task of guarding Dartmouth’s Jeannie Cullen, who had scored 26 points in the teams’ first meeting, Austin held the Big Green star to 13 points on 2-for-14 shooting and “played as smart as I’ve seen her play in her four years here,” Greenberg said.

Clark, who was named Ivy League player of the year, lifted Penn to its biggest non-league win of the season, a 70-64 victory at Temple that was the Quakers’ first win over the Owls in four years and the first in a game played at Temple in a decade. Her 30 points and 12 rebounds gave the team a huge confidence boost after it had lost three of its first five games.

A 91-55 loss to Connecticut in the first round of the NCAA Tournament added a coda to the careers of Clark and Austin, and gave the Quakers a well-deserved moment in the national spotlight.

“They come from different backgrounds, but they’re like sisters,” Greenberg characterized this year’s team. “They care about each other; they push each other at practice. That’s really important.”

Mens basketball coach Fran Dunphy seems to have hit upon a solution for the problem of grade inflation. It’s a simple, merit-based system: the more important games you win, the better your grade. Which leaves this past season’s Quakers with decent marks for the 2003-2004 season; better than a gentleman’s ‘C’ but certainly not a candidate for dean’s list.

“If I had to grade our team, I’d probably give us a B,” Dunphy said recently as he reflected on his team’s 17-10 record. “If we’d beaten Princeton the last game of the season, I’d give us a B-plus. And if we’d beaten Brown on the road when we had the game won, I’d give 
us an A-minus.”

There were actually three games that helped prevent Penn from going to the head of the class in the Ivy League. The first was the 92-88 overtime loss at Brown to which Dunphy referred, in a game the Quakers led in the final seconds of regulation only to have Brown tie the game on a buzzer-beating jump shot. The second was a crushing home loss to the Bears at the Palestra on Feb. 20 that helped give Princeton an insurmountable lead in the Ivy League race. The third was the final home loss to Princeton when a win could have given the Quakers a legitimate chance for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament. 

In the second Brown game, Bears coach Glenn Miller put an emphasis on neutralizing Penn’s outside game, with the result that senior Jeff Schiffner and junior Tim Begley shot 0-for-11 in the first half and 3-for-22 for the game. Freshman Mark Zoller and senior Adam Chubb combined for 45 points, but it wasn’t enough. Brown’s Jason Forte repeatedly beat the Quakers off the dribble on his way to 29 points.

“When you take one thing away, you give another thing up. They gave us post scoring and we didn’t take advantage of it enough,” Dunphy said. “I’ve gone over that game a thousand times, and the fact is that Brown played better, and we didn’t do a good job of defending Forte.”

The Princeton game lacked the usual edginess that marks games between the two rivals, due to the Tigers having already clinched an NCAA Tournament berth. Things heated up in the second half when Penn took a nine-point lead, but the Quakers committed two key turnovers that turned the tide and allowed Princeton to even the score and eventually win 76-70 in overtime.

Schiffner, the team’s leader and one of the best outside shooters in the program’s history, has launched his last shot for Penn, as have Chubb and guard Charlie Copp. With a season of experience under their belts, expect Zoller and fellow freshmen Ibrahim Jaaber, Steve Danley and Ryan Pettinella to help Begley take up the slack next season, and work on raising their basketball GPAs. 

“Certainly there’s some disappointment, but I think that for this group to win 17 games and be maybe a play a game from winning 22, is pretty good,” Dunphy said. “I wish practice started tomorrow.”

David Porter C’82 writes for the Associated Press.

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