While the Penn women's basketball squad remains winless in Big 5 play
this season, Saint Joseph's (10-8, 2-1 Big 5) is seeking to snatch the
coveted city title away from reigning champion Temple by week's end.
But first the Hawks will need to make it past the Quakers (6-9, 0-3 Big
5), who make the short commute uptown this evening to close out their
Big 5 schedule.
"We want that championship," St. Joe's coach Cindy Griffin said. "We
gotta get through Penn, and we gotta get through Temple. That's one of
our goals this year, and that's definitely on our mind."
Griffin, who notched her 150th career victory in her team's last game
at Saint Louis, is experienced enough to know Penn's poor showings in
Big 5 play means little once the whistle blows tonight.
"Anytime you play a city series � people are going to give it everything they have," Griffin said.
A win against the Hawks would be monumental for the visiting Quakers.
In the teams' 31 meetings, Penn has won just once - a 64-57 victory at
St. Joe's in Penn coach Pat Knapp's first season, three years ago.
While the Quakers' greater concern is the conference schedule, they
would like nothing more than to play spoiler on their rival's home
"St. Joe's would like to win the next two games to win the Big Five
title and our job � is to not let that happen," Knapp said. "Even
though it's buried in the middle of the calendar for us, all the Big
Five games are important. It would be a big win for us."
After a week-long hiatus, Penn hopes to convert recent momentum into
its first three-game winning streak in almost two years. After an
embarrassing collapse against Cornell on January 12, the Red and Blue
blew out Columbia to end the weekend on a high note and then edged
Manhattan on the road.
"The key thing is that we're really only working on our stuff," Knapp
said of the team's goals in practice. "We know what St. Joe's is going
to do. They run multiple offenses and multiple defenses. We have to be on the same page defensively in terms of communicating the different
strategies we have."
On offense, Knapp hopes to see more from the unfamiliar suspects.
Starters Lauren Pears, Anca Popovici and Maggie Burgess have stepped up
recently, providing a nice support staff for Joey Rhoads and Monica
Naltner. Kelly Scott and Ashley Gray have made vital contributions off
the bench, including double-digit performances from Gray in the last
two games that looked to be the difference.
Meanwhile, the Hawks boast a balanced offensive attack, led by star
senior Ayahna Cornish, who leads the team with 281 points (15.6 points
Knapp said: "We have to contain her and can't let her get to the
basket. But they have other kids that they go to on that team,"
referring to a cast that includes senior Whitney Ffrench and sophomore
And the Hawks have done their scouting, too.
"Defending them [is crucial]," Griffin said. "We'll do what we do,
which is trying to make them uncomfortable, and keep them out of their
comfort zone, and try to keep Rhoads under control."
If Griffin's team does that, she will be poised to leave Knapp's squad winless in the Big 5 for the second consecutive season.