The Penn women's basketball team hung with nationally ranked Duke enough on Friday night at the Palestra to make an upset feel believable.
But, the magic eventually wore out as the Quakers faded before falling to 14th-ranked Duke, 57-50, in the season opener.
"We can compete against anyone if we play the game that we need to play," said Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin. And I think we did that for most of the game. I think it's going to give us confidence going forward."
The Quakers trailed the entire game until taking a 36-35 lead with with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the third quarter. Penn rallied to end the quarter on a 14-2 run and entered the fourth with a four-point lead. But that lead was soon gone. Duke broke down Penn with pressure defense and big time shooting from Azura Stevens.
The sophomore hit a three with 3:26 left. Stevens then hit a layup on the next possession to give Duke a six-point lead. After a timeout, Penn was whistled for a 10-second violation after they struggled to reach half court. The Blue Devils added another basket, pushing their lead to eight with less than two minutes left.
Sophomore guard Lauren Whitlatch led Penn with 18 points. Point guard Kasey Chambers dished out three assists and the senior played pesky defense. Michelle Nwokedi, a sophomore forward, grabbed eight rebounds and finished with 15 points.
"The whole team played within themselves," said Whitlatch. "You have to keep going through the ups and the downs. The couple of makes felt good, but you have to get back on defense. You just keep playing."
It was the second consecutive season that Penn opened its season against a national power. Penn fell at Tennessee last season when the Volunteers were ranked fourth in the nation.
"Playing against such a great team to start out showed that we can compete with anyone," said junior center Sydney Stipanovich. "We'll bring that energy and confidence to the next game."