PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a trip west for the University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team to open the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers, the #12 seed in the Bridgeport Region, will play #5-seed Texas A & M in the first round on Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
Penn (22-7) has already had a magnificent season. The Quakers earned an automatic berth to the tourney, winning the first-ever Ivy League Tournament, beating Princeton in the Championship game at the Palestra on Sunday, 57-48.
“It was a weekend that we’ll remember for a long time,” Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin tells KYW Newsradio. “It was a long journey in our league, 14 games, we won the regular season. To be able to go into the tournament, a new set-up for everyone, and be able to win the championship of that and get the automatic bid is extremely satisfying. Very gratifying to our players, our program, and very well deserved. Our girls competed hard all year. We showed to be the best team in the league from the start to the finish and we were rewarded accordingly.”
Listen to the entire interview with Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin:
Junior forward Michelle Nwokedi paces the Quakers in scoring (15.1 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg). She is the Ivy League Player of the Year and was named Most Outstanding Player in the Ivy Tournament. Senior center Sydney Stipanovich averages 10.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Junior guard Anna Ross was named to the Ivy All-Tournament Team and she chips in 9.3 points a game and paces the squad with 120 assists.
The Texas A & M team the Quakers will open with is 21-11. The Aggies advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament before losing to Mississippi State. McLaughlin says the speed, size and athleticism of this Texas A & M team jumps out at him.
“I think anything in the power conferences, I think you’re going to get very similar, you’re going to get kids that are maybe a little bit bigger, little bit faster,” he says. “But we’ve been in this position before. We drew Texas in the first round a few years ago (2014) and gave them everything they could handle (led 38-31 at the half before losing 79-61). Washington last year, did the same thing, (trailed by just three with seven minutes left, eventually lost 69-53). So we’ve been here before, we know we’re up against it a little bit. But our style of play, I believe we can compete.”
And if the Quakers are going to pull an upset and pick up their first-ever NCAA Tournament win?
“We absolutely have to rebound,” McLaughlin says. “They’re going to rebound the ball at a really high rate. We’re going to have to control the tempo. And we’re going to have to make shots.”
The winner of this game gets the winner of UCLA and Boise State in the second round on Monday.
Penn and Texas A & M will tip-off at 9:00pm Eastern on Saturday.