The women’s basketball team had a season worth remembering with an ending it would rather forget. After coming within inches of defeating Harvard two weekends ago to ensure a shot at its first ever Ivy League title, Cornell dropped its final three games including two this weekend at Princeton and Penn.
On Friday night the lady cagers started the game in the usual fashion, jumping out to a first half lead against the Tigers behind consistent shooting and stingy defense. Cornell limited its host to just two points over a six minute span to open up a seven point lead at the half, 34-27.
The second half would provide a much different story line for the Red with an overriding feel of frost-bitten frigidity. Princeton, on the other hand, seemed like a new team out of the locker room as they sprung out to a 21-1 run behind a barrage of 3-pointers and strong play inside.
Junior forward Lynell Davis’s lay-up at 10:47 was the first Cornell field goal in the second half, as the Red went on to shoot just 18.8% from the field. Cornell actually took 12 more shots in the second half than its opponents but could not finish on easy shots and lay-ups.
“We couldn’t do the simple things to put us in a position to win; it was the little things that killed us,” lamented head coach Marnie Dacko.
In the game’s final minutes, Princeton did something that the Red has struggled to do all year: close out the game by hitting clutch free-throws. The margin was no closer than six points as Cornell sent player after player to the free-throw line only to watch as Princeton coolly capitalized on its oppoION>ities at the charity stripe.
Playing in her second to last game in a Red uniform, senior tri-captain Do Stevens did provide a high point for Cornell on Friday. Scoring nearly half her team’s points, Stevens cashed in a double-double performance including 27 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore Tanya Karcic also played well down low, grabbing a career-best 14 boards. However, their efforts were not enough as Cornell let its fourth straight league contest slip from its hands, 70-56.
“We just let down our guard…They were definitely gunning for us and we just couldn’t finish,” said Stevens.
Saturday’s game saw an inspired Penn squad stun a reeling Cornell team gasping for its last emotional breath. Sticking to a script it has followed nearly all year, the Red played its best basketball in the first half, silencing the wild Penn crowd by taking an early 14-4 lead.
A scary moment for the Red occurred midway through the first half when sophomore tri-captain and bearer of huge expectations in years to come, Karen Force, was involved in a rough play that placed her at the bottom of a pile of bodies. Force sustained a concussion in the tussle and complained of neck pain but did not suffer any further injuries.
After a late rally for the Quakers, who were celebrating senior night, the teams were tied at 32 heading into the half.
Unlike the night before, Cornell started the second half of Saturday’s game with a strong showing as jumpers from Stevens and senior tri-captain Breean Walas gave the Red a seven point advantage just two minutes into the period.
Cornell would maintain that lead nearly the entire half only to watch as Penn clawed its way to within a single basket on the strength of star Jewel Clark’s inside play with five minutes left. Clark ended the game with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
However, Cornell had an answer for Clark’s effort, and held a 64-57 advantage with three minutes remaining in the contest. But as the game neared completion, the Red relinquished its momentum and allowed Penn back in the game.
With a minute left on the clock, Walas sank a free throw to push the Red lead to three, only to watch as Penn’s Mikaelyn Austin raced down the court to hit a shot from beyond the arc and even the score. It was yet another lost opportunity for the Red to seize the game.
“We weren’t together emotionally [this weekend] and that showed down the stretch,” commented Dacko.
Sophomore forward Tanya Karcic put in one of two free throw attempts off a Penn turnover with 13.2 seconds left to set up yet another heart-stopping ending for the Red.
After begging her players not to foul, Dacko could only watch as Clark penetrated the Red defense and drove for a lay-up, eventually drawing a foul from junior Ify Ossai. It was Ossai’s fifth foul, and Dacko used the time allowed for a substitution and her final two timeouts to try and ice Penn’s All-Ivy prospect.
However, the second year player stepped calmly to the line and sank both of her attempts to stick yet another knife in the Red’s collective heart. The final score was 69-68, Penn.
“We should’ve won both games, there’s no question about that and I can’t even put my finger on what happened,” reflected Walas.
The game was not without its high points for the Red’s senior duo of Stevens and Walas. Playing in their final game together, the two Michigan natives accounted for 44 of the Red’s 68 points, with Walas also adding four assists on the day.
The careers of Walas, Stevens, and classmate Melissa Koch all ended at the Palestra on Saturday but they will remain in the minds of all Cornell basketball fans for a long time to come. The class of 2002 is the winningest in Cornell’s history, having garnered 51 victories during its reign. They have also set a new standard for future Cornell teams and leave East Hill having spread respect for their program to an all-time high.
“We now know what the lesson in all this is and we’re just taking the lesser steps to make that big move,” concluded Dacko.
Archived article by Scott Jones