February 5, 2007

W. Cagers Lose Two During Homestand

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Although there were many possible promising outcomes for the women’s basketball team this past weekend, what transpired was certainly not on that list.

Cornell’s back-to-back losses to Dartmouth and Harvard, combined with wins from Princeton and Harvard, dropped the Red (9-11, 4-2 Ivy) from first to third in the Ivy standings.

[img_assist|nid=21129|title=Never scared.|desc=Sophomore Shannan Scarselletta (front) looks to score durng the women’s basketball team’s 71-57 loss to Harvard on Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=70|height=100]

The three Dartmouth fans that cheered their women’s basketball team (9-10, 3-2) were silenced for most of the game. As the second half began to wind down, however, the sharp stomping of heels, clapping and shrill, high-pitched cries of “Defense!” got louder from the Dartmouth fans behind their bench. The Green stormed back from a 51-39 deficit with a full-court press and a flurry of 3s to overtake the Cornell lead and win, 60-56.

“I think we got caught off guard,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “They’re not really a pressing team. We made some poor decisions with the ball and didn’t provide receivers. It was disappointing because we had come off two games with Columbia who is a pressing team and we handled their press very well.”

Defensively, Smith thought that the team handled the Green’s tricky motion offense very well throughout most of the game.

“We did a great job defending the 3 throughout the game,” she said. “They actually just hit some really nice shots that we were contesting. They hit some big shots. … We could have done a little better job of containing the penetration. We were worried about the drive and that opened up some outside shots for them.”

Cornell jumped out of the starting blocks, hitting five of its first seven field goal attempts on its way to an early 21-9 lead.

“We were just executing well,” Smith said. “We were working the ball on the side and the transition game was going. We were in the flow. I thought we did a nice job reading the help. Dartmouth was over-helping on drives and we were able to find the right people.”

The “right” people poured in 54.2 percent of their shots in the first stanza of play, and the Red held the 33-26 advantage going into the locker room. The Red front line was setting the tone, defensively and offensively. Sophomore forward Shannan Scarselletta finished with 13 points and six rebounds, while junior forward Moina Snyder finished with 12 points, eight boards and four blocks.

In response, Dartmouth tweaked its offense at halftime, vying to make the Red post players a non-factor.

“They definitely changed what they were working at on offense,” Smith said. “They were focusing on the strong side in the first half. They would set up two players on the strong side and work the pick-and-roll. The weak side players were just there to disrupt the defensive help. In the second half, they made smarter decisions and started working the weak side a bit. That took Moina and Shannan out of the equation [on the defensive end].”

Trying to push the tough loss out of their minds, the Red players still had a chance stand atop the Ivy League as Harvard (5-12, 4-1) traveled to East Hill Saturday night — a mere a half game behind Cornell in the standings. A subdued crowd was never able to get involved in the game, however, as the Crimson led wire-to-wire.

“Our first four or five possessions were all 3 point shots,” Smith said. “We kind of got out of our game a bit. We had been doing a good job of working the ball inside and working on primary breaks. We deviated from our game plan, though, and how we have been producing on offense. It put us down early and we were forced to do some things to try and get us back in, like shoot more 3’s.”

In a first half that saw the Red only shoot 25 percent from the floor, one out of every three shots was from long range. Meanwhile, the Crimson pounded the ball inside, dominating the paint and pulling down rebound after rebound.

“Don’t think size was it at all,” Smith said of the Harvard squad, which features two forwards at 6-3 and a center at 6-7. “Rebounding is not about size. We didn’t push back well. If you push back one or two steps and then they try to explode up over you, you’ll get an over the back called. We weren’t making them call that, though. Emily Tay and all their guards were also being really aggressive charging into the lane from the perimeter and grabbing rebounds away from our players.”

Harvard finished with a sizeable, 40-26 rebounding edge, but where Cornell really got hurt was on the offensive glass, as the Crimson tallied 16 second-chance points to the Red’s three. Despite the rebounding discrepancy, as well as a the Crimson’s 61.9 percent shooting performance in the first, the Red went into halftime only down by nine, 29-20.

“I thought we did a nice job of transition defense,” Smith said. “We kept their possessions limited in the first half. They really got quite a few fast break points and we did a good job of forcing them to score in the half court and they simply did a good job of doing that. It’s something they’re not known for so you have to give them credit.”

Eventually, some shots did start to fall for Cornell late in the second half. Back-to-back 3s by sophomore tri-captain Kayleen Fitzsimmons — who finished with 17 points — and senior tri-captain Claire Perry pulled the team within five points with 3:18 to go. From there, however, it seemed like every defensive stop Cornell mustered was answered with an offensive rebound and put-back by Emily Moretzsohn, who compiled 18 points and 13 boards in only 12 minutes of play — mostly late in the second half. Free-throw shooting dragged the game out, but the Red eventually lost 71-57.

“I don’t know how much [Friday’s game] played into it,” Smith said. “I would hope it didn’t, but we do have some newcomers on the team and it’s tough to adjust to the Ivy schedule of back-to-back games. I thought we just came out with a lack of intensity and no sense of urgency. We’re a better team than we showed [Saturday]. It’s early in the season, though, and if we play like we can, we’ll be fine