February 2, 2007

Women’s Basketball Looks to Stay Perfect in Ivy Play

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One year ago tomorrow, the women’s basketball team found itself in a very similar situation to the one it finds itself in today. Sitting at a record of 3-1, the Red was coming off back-to-back wins over Columbia and was set to face reigning Ivy champ Dartmouth before taking on Harvard.

This year, the Red, again coming off back-to-back wins over Columbia, holds a record of 4-0 (8-9 overall) and is preparing to take on reigning Ivy champ Dartmouth (7-10, 1-2 Ivy) before matching up with Harvard (4-12, 2-1).

How much difference a year makes, though. While Dartmouth is still the reigning Ancient Eight champion, its tight-knit bunch that ran the unique Dartmouth motion offense so fluidly has mostly graduated, and the squad holds a 1-2 conference record, matching its two conference losses all last year. Cornell, while still a young team, no longer has an assortment of wide-eyed freshmen in the starting lineup.
[img_assist|nid=21089|title=Eyes ahead|desc=Junior Gretchen Gregg looks down the court during an 83-70 win over Columbia on Jan. 27. The Red will seek to extend its perfect Ivy record this weekend.|link=none|align=left|width=66|height=100]

With all this in mind, head coach Dayna Smith is still anticipating two tough games this weekend.

“Last year, [Dartmouth] had a point guard and an off guard who ran the motion offense very well,” she said. “They had a forward who was just like their glue. They lost a lot to graduation, though. They have new people in these roles. Still, their offense is so unique that it’s difficult to scout.”

Smith points out the Green’s propensity to shoot the pull-up 3 in transition quite often, a strategy that can easily throw off a team’s regular defense. While Dartmouth has actually shot less 3s overall than the Red, the bulk of the 3s come from its shooting guards Koren Schram and Ashley Taylor. Schram herself has hoisted 124 of the team’s 235 long bombs, showing that most of the 3s come from quick pull-ups when the guards bringing the ball up the court.

“They’ve always had one, two or three people who can shoot the 3,” Smith said. “It’s very difficult to defend. When you are trying to help on defense, they like to set picks to free up shooters. We’ll have to be wary about motion cuts. We know their personnel, and we need to know where they are on the court.”

Taylor’s game actually revolves more around getting to the basket and drawing fouls, having poured in 101-of-117 free throws on the season, 61 more than the next closest Green player and 72 more attempts than the second-place player on the squad. Defensively, Smith repeatedly used the word “scrappy” to describe the Green.

“They like to clog up the paint too, so our guards will have to contribute,” she said. “Last year they sagged off [sophomore] Jeomi [Maduka], almost daring her to shoot. We’ll continue to run our offense through the forwards, though, because I trust how they pass the ball.”

Tomorrow night, Harvard will challenge the Red with a much different style of play. While most of Dartmouth’s scoring comes from its backcourt, the Crimson brings three players who average in double figures, and another putting in 9.3 points per game. According to Smith, Harvard likes to play an up-tempo brand of basketball despite have two forwards standing at 6-3 and another at 6-7.

“They like to run the ball,” she said. “They have a flashy point guard in Emily Tay and they do have some height. … It’s hard to press them, though, because they get the ball up so quickly. We need to focus of slowing down the ball whether in the full or half court, and match up quickly when we are getting back on defense.”

Maturing in her sophomore season, Tay has shown more of the explosiveness that was evident last season, leading the team with 13.4 ppg and posting the game-high score in six of the teams’ 16 contests. Defensively, Tay leads the Crimson’s defense around the arc.

“They play very aggressive on the perimeter when they play man-to-man,” Smith said. “We’ll have to try and exploit that and penetrate. They do play some zone, though, so we’ll need to be ready to hit some 3s.”

In an Ivy League in transition due to graduations last spring, many teams, like Harvard and Cornell, seem to be just hitting their stride as the young players begin to gel. The Crimson dropped 10 of its first 11 games, before coming together to win three of its next five. Similarly, the Red dropped its first seven affairs before taking eight of its next 10 games, in part due to freshman Lauren Benson emerging at the point, allowing sophomore tri-captain Kayleen Fitzsimmons to fall into her natural role as a shooter.

“I like the way they play together,” Smith said. “Lauren has been pushing things well … and I like the flexibility I have when I can interchange them.”

The Red’s leading shot blocker and emerging rebounder, junior Moina Snyder, will have to contend with Harvard’s towering post game.

“[Snyder] is deceivingly strong,” Smith said. “Her arms are really long and she’s really smart. Harvard’s big, though, so she won’t be able to out jump these girls. She’s going to have to push them around.”