Following a lopsided 72-54 loss to Columbia – snapping what had been an eight game win streak against the Lions – Cornell women’s basketball is eager to regain its footing as it heads into what could be a make-or-break Ivy League series this weekend against Dartmouth and Harvard.
Head coach Dayna Smith didn’t mince words in diagnosing what went wrong in the Red’s (5-12, 1-3 Ivy) matchup against the Lions (7-12, 1-3) last Saturday – a team Cornell comfortably dispatched, 57-47, just one week prior.
“We played a really poor game,” Smith said after the loss. “We simply weren’t able to finish a lot of plays.”
While the loss brought the Red its 12th defeat of the season – a disappointing result for a team that hasn’t logged a losing record since 2012 – Smith said she viewed the game as a chance to regroup and address problems that have plagued the squad throughout the season.
Chief among these concerns has proved to be the issue of turnovers, a statistic likely to affect Cornell’s success this weekend. The Red has averaged 19.1 giveaways in its past 17 games, compared to the conference average of 16.9.
To tackle this challenge, Smith had adjusted this week’s training regimen, putting a greater emphasis on defense and stressing the importance of having players take on greater individual responsibility.
“We worked really hard on defense this week [and] broke down our turnovers,” she said. “But ultimately, people have to take greater pride.”
Despite several days of tough training, Dartmouth (10-7, 2-2), and especially Harvard (11-6, 3-1), will still be daunting opponents. The Crimson, riding a four-game winning streak, holds the No. 2 spot in the Ivy standings.
Smith remains cautiously optimistic as her team prepares to face tough competition.
“Dartmouth’s guards are scoring tremendously…Harvard is very well-balanced….both are very experienced teams,” Smith said. “The key for us is going to be a lot of team defense and containing penetration.”
A number of individual performances give reason to suggest such an upset may be within reach. Sophomore guard Samantha Widmann has averaged an impressive 15 points per game thus far and played a key role in Cornell’s last victory against Columbia. Sophomore guard Danielle Jorgenson and junior guard Samantha Clement both scored double-digit points in the last two contests.
Working against the Red is something beyond its control, the graduation of a slew of highly productive seniors. Most notably, the squad lost forward Nia Marshall ’17, whose 1,685 career points set an all-time program record. The current roster features only two seniors, compared to 11 underclassmen.
Marshall’s void and the team’s youth have proved tough issues for the Red to overcome. Smith said many of her players have been forced to take on roles completely different than last season.
“This is really a reversal of roles for us,” Smith said. “In the past, we’ve normally been the more experienced team … So this is new for us. We have to learn how to handle ourselves.”
The Red will hit the road to continue its trek into unchartered territory Friday against Dartmouth and Saturday against Harvard.