COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) – With a 15-point lead in the first half, Penn had a genuine shot at the second Ivy League win in NCAA women’s tournament history.
When the Quakers’ shot-blocking center picked up her third and fourth fouls, the middle of the court opened up for Texas to make a comeback.
With Sydney Stipanovich, both the rookie of the year and defensive player of the year in her conference, spending too much time on the bench, Longhorns center Imani McGee-Stafford scored 15 of her 20 points after halftime to lead the fifth-seeded Longhorns past No. 12 Penn 79-61 Sunday.
“We didn’t have Sidney down there to change their shot,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We had to change some things up on that end. It definitely hurt us. We tried to adjust and it just didn’t work our way.”
Alyssa Baron scored 25 points to lead the Quakers (23-6), and the Ivy League dropped to 1-22 all-time in the NCAAs. The one win was historic: Harvard over Stanford in 1997, the only victory by a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 in men’s or women’s tournament history.
Penn led 32-17 late in the first half and 38-31 at halftime, but the stronger, more athletic Longhorns cut down on their turnovers and took advantage of the foul trouble to pull off a 22-2 run early in the second half.
“My teammates needed me to demand the ball in the post,” McGee-Stafford said, “so that’s what I did for them.”
Baron’s hot hand gave Penn the early lead, but the officials called the game close, and that hurt the Quakers’ chances to hold on. Stipanovich played only seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, and it’s safe to say she did little to get her money’s worth on the calls. She picked up her fourth soon after halftime, just as Texas was getting on a roll.
“I tried to stay straight up, but they’re just talented players. They came and drew the fouls. You’ve got to give them credit for that,” said Stipanovich, who then pursed her lips in a way that spoke volumes more than her diplomatic answer.
Both teams admitted Stipanovich’s limited playing time changed the game. The niece of former Indiana Pacers center Steve Stipanovich, she finished with 14 points, but most of them came when Penn was trying to make up a double-digit deficit late in the game.
Also, Penn’s Kara Bonenberger fouled out with 7:03 to play.
Texas was careless early on, committing turnovers on five consecutive possessions during a 9-0 Penn run. The Longhorns went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal, but they finally regrouped and put together an 8-0 run, including a three-point play by GiGi Mazionyte that drew the third foul on Stipanovich.
Chassidy Fussell gave Texas its first lead since early in the game with a 3-pointer that made it 44-43 with 14½ minutes left, part of a 14-0 run that turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead. McGee-Stafford’s three-point play with 10:27 remaining put the Longhorns ahead 57-45, and they led by double-digits the rest of the way.
Penn finishes the season with 22 wins, trying the school record.
“We came in here, the four seniors, and the program wasn’t where we wanted it to be in terms of wins and losses,” Baron said. “But through all our hard work and dedication from the coaches and the team, we were able to keep improving from year to year. We’re leaving the program in good hands.”
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