With a strong defensive performance in the second half and another big game from Michelle Nwokedi, Penn defeated Brown, 71-60, in the first semifinal of the Ivy League women's basketball tournament.
After holding an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, top seed Penn (21-7) jumped out of the gate in the second quarter with a 6-0 run in the first 90 seconds. But Brown (16-12), the tournament's No. 4 seed, took the rest of the quarter by a 21-9 margin - capped off by a buzzer-beating Shayna Mehta three-pointer.
The Bears' momentum carried into the third quarter. They took the lead on the opening possession, then extended it to 40-35 with just over three minutes played.
Penn had seen enough. The Ivy League champions turned the clamps on defensively, hit a few big threes and won the rest of the quarter 21-4.
"I don't think we were worried," said guard Anna Ross, who hit one of those big threes. "At 40-35, I was just thinking, we've got to stay calm, got to play the way we play."
Penn held Brown at bay through the fourth quarter, thanks in no small part to a series of hustle plays by star center Sydney Stipanovich. With eight minutes to go, the senior put back offensive rebounds for baskets on consecutive possessions, then grabbed a defensive board that led to a Michelle Nwokedi layup. That gave Penn its biggest lead of the day, 62-49 with 6:26 left.
The sequence was key not just for Penn collectively, but for Stipanovich individually. She didn't have her usual influence on recent games because of a lingering lower body injury. She looked much closer to her old self down the stretch Saturday.
"Her shoulders went up a couple inches after the ball started going in a little bit," Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. "She showed why she's one of the best. ... Her defensive presence in the second half was great, and the putbacks on the offensive end really helped her confidence."
Nwokedi, the Ivy League Player of the Year, led all scorers with 25 points; she also had 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Junior guard Beth Brzozowski added 16 points. Brown was led by guard Shayna Mehta's 19 points, and forward Erika Steeves' 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Penn advanced to Sunday's tournament final (4 p.m., ESPNU), where it will face No. 2 seed Princeton. It is the first season in the storied rivalry's history in which both the men and women will have met three times each in a campaign.
Princeton 68, Harvard 47 - No. 2 seed Princeton cruised to victory in the second women's semifinal, led by freshman forward Bella Alarie's 17 points and 16 rebounds.
No. 3 seed Harvard kept the game close through the first quarter and into the second, taking its only lead of the game with seven minutes, 25 seconds until halftime. The Tigers controlled the game from there, holding a double-digit advantage for almost the entire second half.
Katie Benzan and Madeline Raster were the Crimson's leading scorers with 11 points each.