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Villanova Survives Late Comeback Bid From Penn, 68-62

Junior+guard+Zanai+Jones+scored+eight+points+and+recorded+three+assists+in+the+win+over+Penn.
Ryan Sarbello/Villanovan Photography
Junior guard Zanai Jones scored eight points and recorded three assists in the win over Penn.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, Villanova defeated Penn, 68-62. The win puts them at 6-2 on the season. 

Junior forward Christina Dalce stood out as the game’s leading scorer, securing a double-double with 18 points and 17 rebounds. Freshman guard Maddie Webber, returning from an ankle injury, impressed with a career high 16 points. Despite not meeting her average 26 points, junior guard Lucy Olsen finished the night with 14 points.  

“I was kind of nervous at first about my foot and playing defense and moving around, but when I’m playing, I don’t really think about it,” Webber said. “Everything just felt good.” 

The game started in the ‘Cats’ favor on the offensive end with the team building a 10-point lead in the first couple of minutes. This lead came largely in part from the defensive efforts of junior guard Bella Runyan, along with the offensive and defensive rebounding skills of Dalce. 

“As each game comes by, I’m learning to have patience,” Dalce said. “My coaches, even my teammates, are always talking to me about being patient. So, even just in today’s game, I really took that into consideration just to be calm, be patient. And, you know, we have a pretty good outcome with that. But it definitely boosted my confidence. Slowly but surely my confidence is going higher.” 

Nevertheless, things started to slow down for Villanova as the Quakers came crawling back, as a result of poor shot choices from the ‘Cats. They went 3-16 on three-pointers in the first half. Runyan’s minutes were also limited early on due to foul trouble, causing a gap in the defense. It  was filled by junior guard Kaitlyn Orihel and Webber, who each had a steal. 

Coming off her second Big East Player of the Week award, Olsen went 0-6 for field goals in the first half, forcing the Wildcats to rely on other scorers. Yet, the biggest problem for Villanova was figuring out how to control the Quakers’ freshman guard Mataya Gayle, who secured 17 of her team’s points in the first half, putting the Villanova lead at 35-30 at the end of the half. 

Coming out of the locker room, the ‘Cats quickly took their largest lead of the game of 16, led by contributions from Webber, Olsen, and Dalce and assists from the reentered Runyan. 

“[The coaches] have been making an emphasis during our practices that it’s great that [Olsen’s] scoring her points, but there’s gonna be games that we play, especially when conference play comes, that they’re going to be face guarding her, very similar to what happened today,” Dalce said. “So having [Webber], stepping up as a freshman too, that’s very big.”

Despite Gayle fouling out in the early minutes of the fourth, the Quakers came creeping back with the help of the leading scorer of the night, senior forward Jordan Obi, who had a double-double with ten rebounds and 20 points. Obi’s surge in scoring, coupled with Villanova going 3-14 for field goals in the fourth, eventually allowed Penn to cut the lead to three with 30 seconds left in the game.  

With the clock winding down and Villanova possessing the ball, Penn fouled Webber to send her to the line, where she made both her foul shots. With 19 seconds left, Obi shot a three, only to be blocked by Dalce. With this last-chance denial, the ‘Cats were able to finish out the game.

“I just like coming off the bench and giving us a little spark,“ Webber said. “Playing hard is what I do. Adjusting, more in the offseason, was definitely a lot but now that I’m in the games, and I’m going through it all, it’s coming a lot easier. But I’m obviously still learning a lot as well.”

Looking forward, Villanova will take a short trip to Saint Joseph’s on Saturday, Dec. 9. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. The Hawks are looking to preserve their undefeated record of 8-0. The game will be televised on ESPN+.

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