Tensions are beginning to rise this weekend as Cornell women’s basketball will play its two most important games of the season. Yale and Brown are hungry for playoff berths to the first-ever Ivy League Tournament, and the Red is their primary target. Cornell women’s basketball currently stands in fourth place among the Ancient Eight and hopes to stay there after this weekend to continue its path to the Palestra.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to still play for a spot in the tournament,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “This team has worked extremely hard and has been through a lot of ups and downs their past four years. They’ve been a huge part of what we’re trying to do here.”
These two final regular season games will also highlight Cornell’s five seniors: Nia Marshall, Nicholle Aston, Kerri Moran, Taylor DePalma and Megan LeDuc. The Senior Night celebration will honor these talented leaders on the court, giving exceptional notice to Marshall becoming the all-time leading scorer in Cornell history, passing former record holder Karen Walker ’91.
“[Marshall is] obviously very talented and a versatile player that’s able to score in different ways,” Smith said. “When you break that type of record, you’re doing that on a night-in and night-out basis, so the consistency of her ability to lead us in that category says a lot about who she is as an athlete.”
But the Red must focus on the main task at hand — holding on to fourth place.
Yale (14-11, 5-7 Ivy) is coming off a three-win hot streak, downing Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth in comfortable home game settings. Now that the Bulldogs are traveling to Newman Arena on Friday, the Red (15-10, 6-6) hopes to once again defeat Yale this season.
Brown (14-11, 5-7), on the other hand, managed to squeak by with a win against Cornell earlier this season, but they currently hold a four-game losing streak. The Bears hope to turn their luck around when they play Columbia on Friday and Cornell the following day.
“We are confident for next weekend’s games against Yale and Brown,” said freshman Samantha Widmann. “We know we have the capabilities of going to the Ivy Tournament but both teams are talented programs and will be good competition to close the Ivy conference.”
The Red must continue to play at a high level if they hope to play in the postseason.
“Yale has been playing very well lately so we need to go out ready to play like we did at Princeton and duplicate our execution,” Widmann said. “After losing to Brown … we need to come out with more energy and determination to win.”
The Red will likely have to contain Yale early on in its matchup, as the Bulldogs will want to gain a commanding lead out of the gate, much like they did against Dartmouth last weekend. Being one game out of the final Ivy playoff spot with two games left will undoubtedly light a fire under the Bulldog’s scheme, so Cornell must handle the game at all angles.
Brown currently leads the Ivy League in points per game (72.0), field goals made per game (25.7), 3-pointers made per game (7.1) and field goal percentage (41.1). They are also managing a spectacular second place ranking in free throws made per game (13.6) and free throw percentage (73.9), so they have the offensive threats to get the job done.
“Securing both wins would put us in the tournament and that would honestly be the most insane feeling,” said senior Taylor DePalma. “We have put in so much hard work over the season and to see it pay off and be a part of history in the first Ivy basketball tournament would be such a cool experience. With so many seniors, we don’t want this to be our last weekend of basketball so we hope to bring that passion with us out on the court.”
Being a part of Ivy League basketball history is on the minds of all three teams this weekend. Every game is crucial. If the Red wants to comfortably make its way to the tournament, the team must defeat both Yale and Brown this weekend to earn a playoff berth.
Cornell will face off against Yale at 6 p.m. on Friday, followed by its last regular season game against Brown at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Newman Arena.