The women’s basketball team was glad to be home this weekend, as it beat Penn on Friday night, 59-52, to earn its first Ivy League victory of the season. The celebration was short-lived, however, as the Red fell to undefeated, conference-leader Princeton, 72-49, the following evening.
Although head coach Dayna Smith and the rest of the Red would have preferred a weekend sweep at Newman Arena, getting into the win column in Ivy League play is enough to call the two-game split a success.
In a back-and-forth contest between two teams in desperate need of a win, the Red (6-15, 1-7) ultimately prevailed over the Quakers (1-20, 0-7) in large part due to the performance of freshman forward Clare Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick scored a career-high 24 points to go along with nine rebounds for Cornell, which snapped an 11-game losing streak with the victory.
“Our team throughout the week focused on trying to get the ball inside and get the post players involved a little more,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I got the ball I took what came to me. When I had an open shot, I took it.”
Fitzpatrick did most of her work down low, but it was her free throw shooting down the stretch that ultimately sealed the victory for the Red. The freshman, known by her teammates and coaches as “Gamer,” was poised beyond her years from the charity stripe, as she hit three free throws in the final minute to put the game out of Penn’s reach.
“Clare, in our eyes, is not a freshman anymore,” Smith said. “She really excels when the pressure is on, she’s shown that the last three weekends. I was really happy for her to have such a great game.”
Although Fitzpatrick provided most of the scoring for the Red, it was Lauren Benson who helped pace Cornell’s offense. On an evening in which the senior point guard was honored as Cornell’s all-time assists leader, Benson did not disappoint, dishing out nine helpers to go along with eight points and six rebounds.
“[Benson] is the leader of this team,” Fitzpatrick said. “She was able to do what she does best and that is to get the other people the ball. Without her doing that I don’t think we would have been as successful on Friday.”
Benson carried her great play into the team’s second game of the weekend against Princeton, handing out 10 assists while turning the ball over just twice.
“Lauren had by far her best weekend of the season,” Smith said. “She was a good point guard and that’s what we need from her.”
Despite her great play, Benson and the rest of the Red came up short against the Tigers (19-2, 7-0) in a game that was closer than the scoreboard would reveal. Down by 13 points at the half, the Red refused to cave in to a Tiger’s team that will almost assuredly be playing in next month’s NCAA Tournament. Cornell pulled to within six points in the second half before Princeton’s talent proved too much to overcome.
“We probably played better Saturday evening than we did Friday, but Princeton is just good,” Smith said.
Freshman forward Niveen Rasheed is one of the main reasons why Princeton has been so successful this season. Rasheed finished Saturday’s game with an 18-point, 15-rebound double-double for the Tigers. Devona Allgood nearly had a double-double of her own, coming up one rebound short with a 16-point, nine-rebound performance. In total, four Princeton players scored in double-figures.
Senior Allie Fedorowicz led all Cornell scorers with 15 points, and Fitzpatrick added 10 points to close out her monster weekend. Freshman Whitney Hagan led the team in rebounding with eight in 24 minutes of play.
While Cornell appeared to be overmatched by the talented Princeton squad, it was several turnovers in key moments of the game that ultimately prevented the Red from completing a second half comeback. Cornell turned the ball over 20 times throughout the game, resulting in 25 points for the Tigers.
“We made some poor decisions at critical moments,” Smith said. “The way to correct those mistakes is through experience. Unfortunately, we’re learning a lot through experience right now.”