Tonight in Newman Arena, the women’s basketball team will try to live up to the name of its own tournament, the Cornell Classic.
The tournament, featuring Duquesne, Morgan State, and Radford, as well as Cornell, will kick off a two-round edition of December madness at 5 p.m. when Cornell takes on Morgan State, followed by the Duquesne-Radford match-up. Saturday, the consolation game tips off at 3 p.m. before the champion is decided at 5 p.m.
Head coach Dayna Smith looks forward to the challenge the tourney presents, after taking a year off last year due to scheduling and logistical conflicts,
“It helps us for the Ivy season to have back-to-back games this early,” she said. “It helps us understand what we’ll face later. It’s nice because the players’ families can come, and we’ll have that support.”
Beyond the general benefits of a tournament, however, Cornell faces a tough task in s match-up with Morgan State (1-2).
“[Morgan State] is an athletic team,” Smith said. “They get to the hoop well. They’re very aggressive.”
Despite being picked to finish 10th in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference after last year’s 10th place finish at 5-23 (5-13 MEAC), Morgan State is tenacious cleaning up rebounds, something Smith attributes to the team’s sheer aggressiveness and hustle.
Last season it led the MEAC with 45.2 rebounds per game — Cornell is averaging 32.6 per game this year — and this season the Bears will look to bring that same pugnacious attitude to the offensive end.
“We’ll mix it up [on defense] like we normally do, and work on keeping them in front of uss” Smith said. “They [Morgan State] like to spread the floor and look to penetrate and kick it out, which means we’ll need to play team ball on defense. It’s not something we haven’t seen before, but we’ll need to focus.”
The Bears’ offense usually leans on the scoring of Whitney Johnson, who’s averaging 14.0 points per game, and Corin Adams who boasts a 10.3 scoring average this season. However, if last season is any indicator, Morgan State presents a very balanced offense, with four players averaging around the double-digit mark.
“Whitney Johnson and Corin Adams have been very impressive on tape,” Smith said. “They are good attacking the hoop and good in transition. They were the two most consistent scorers so we’ll have to focus on containing them.”
The Red intends to focus on countering Morgan State’s attitude by setting its own tempo for the game.
“We need to [run more],” Smith said. “We’re doing it in spurts but not enough. We want to crash hard so not enough players will be back on defense. If we get our running game going, we feed off that emotionally. We start playing better team defense.”
Once the Bears settle into their defensive set, however, they play the passing lanes tough, according to Smith.
“We have to focus on taking care of the ball and be patient,” Smith said. “They are aggressive on-the-ball defenders and tend to go for steals on passes. We have to understand when to use backdoor cuts, and when to penetrate.”
Although careful selection of opportunities is key, Smith would like to see the team go to the hole a little more frequently, looking to players like sophomore Shannan Scarselletta and junior Megan Hughes to patrol the lane.
“We have got to get to the free-throw line more,” she said. “We haven’t been attacking the hoop enough. This is no new game plan for the girls. We always want to continue to establish our inside game.”
Sophomore Jeomi Maduka has proven that the term “sophomore slump” doesn’t apply to her, leading the team in overall points with 16.2 points per game, rebounding with 8.0 rebound per game, steals with 3.8 steals per game, and shooting percentage hitting 45 percent from the floor. However, the Red has seen some of its reliable shooters go cold.
The tri-captain guards, sophomore Kayleen Fitzsimmons, senior Claire Perry, and junior Lindsay Krasna, are shooting 31.7, 20.7, and 29.4 percent from the floor, respectively.
“Our shooters are still good shooters,” Smith said. “I’m proud of them. They came in the gym this week and worked really hard. I think Kayleen has turned a corner and all our other guards are knocking on the door. It’s amazing, really. We watch lots of video, and we’re just not hitting open shots.”