Youth is Served as Villanova Holds Off Penn in Women’s Big Five Thriller

Freshman Lucy Olsen 20 Points in Big Five Win

November 22, 2021 –

The Villanova Wildcats came to the Palestra looking for their second Big Five win in two days. The University of Pennsylvania was waiting. But the game would have a different feel. Villanova was without leading scorer Maddy Siegrist again due to a hand injury. Penn was minus some junior and senior starters, due to suspensions.

What was common? This is a Big Five game. Always intense, and expect the unexpected.

“It’s a battle no matter who is out on the floor,” said Villanova Coach Denise Dillon. “We’re trying to find our way a little without Maddy. Penn is missing starters, and you don’t know who their starters are yet until they get everybody back. Players come out here and they’re going to battle no matter what. It’s like a pickup game, they’re going to fight until the end, and that’s what I love about it. You think it is going to be a battle throughout, this was just a little bit different with some of their players not playing and injuries. Play with who you have.”

In the end the Quakers had a chance to tie the game with a buzzer-beater three-pointer, but it was off the mark. The Wildcats bring home a thriller winning 66 – 63. Nova is 2 – 0 in the city series after beating Saint Joseph’s on Saturday.

In this game youth stepped up to play a role in a city rivalry game. Villanova freshman Lucy Olsen scored 20 points in the fourth game of her career. Olsen shot 8 of 14 and converted 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. The guard from Royersford knows of the Big Five and her experience at the Palestra in this game was something to enjoy.

“I grew up watching these games, playing in it was very intense, and it’s fun,” Olsen said. “I like these close games. My teammates tell me not to think about the big stage, it’s just basketball.”

“Each day you see her getting more comfortable in the starting point guard role,” Dillon said about the play of Olsen. “She is a worker and she is a winner. She shows up every day at practice, and it’s nice to see her learning in games what needs to happen.”

Penn played many younger players, those without much experience. Sophomore Jordan Obi scored a game-high 24 points and took down 6 rebounds playing all 40 minutes. She was 9 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 5 from distance. Mandy McGurk scored 12 points. These Quakers did not back away from the challenge and gave the Wildcats all they could handle.

“We always talk about it in coaching, you never know when it is going to be your turn,” said Penn Coach Mike McLaughlin. “We didn’t know it would all be their turn at once, but it is something that will open everyone’s eyes. To compete in this environment, you never know when it is going to be your opportunity. We say it and say it and say it, and the best part was they rose to the task.”

The game was tied after the first quarter and at halftime. Nova got separation in the third quarter. Then with 6:18 to play in the game the Cats took their largest lead of the game at 60 – 48 on a Brianna Herlihy three-point play.

The Red and Blue responded behind a 12 – 2 run sparked by Obi and McGurk to pull to within 62 – 60 with just under two minutes on the clock.

Then experience stepped up for Nova. Lior Garzon, who scored a team-high 21 points, made a critical three-point shot after an offensive rebound to give her team a five-point cushion. Penn did not go away. Obi drained a three-pointer at the 23 second mark. Garzon went to the line as 8.3 seconds showed on the clock. She missed the first, but made the second. Penn had on last chance. Lizzy Groetsch, a freshman who scored 10 points, let a three-point attempt go that was off the side of the rim. The horn sounded. Villanova got the win.

“She played a lot of minutes last year and we’re counting on her,” said Dillon about Garzon’s presence. “She has to realize the ball is going to be in her hands down the stretch, not just the last possession. It’s going to be the last five minutes, situational basketball.”

The Wildcats even their record at 2 – 2 and will play Temple next Saturday at home looking to take a 3 – 0 City Series record. Penn suffers their first loss of the season, and heads to California to play in the Loyola Marymount Thanksgiving Classic.

With this game as an indicator in women’s Big Five basketball, these players belong.

“You ask them as a coach to compete at a high level, never give in regardless of the opponent, and they did it,” McLaughlin said. “We’re proud of what they did out here tonight, and hope they can carry it over. It is something they can learn and rise to the occasion the next time as well.”

“After they go a cycle, they say ‘I get this now,’ and they got it pretty quick this time, the whole team got it.”


Written By: Glenn Papazian


Lucy Olsen (Number 3 in blue) Going to the Basket

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