For most sports fans, the Duke-UNC game was a Wednesday night event on ESPN. For the women’s basketball team, head coach Dayna Smith also planned last night’s women’s basketball team dinner around an ESPN2 event. The Red watched as the Lady Blue Devils defeated the Lady Tarheels, a matchup of the top-2 ranked women’s basketball teams in the country.
While Cornell (8-11, 4-2 Ivy) may never achieve such a ranking, there are still lessons to be learned from watching two physical teams battle it out. Heading into a weekend of back-to-back road meetings with Brown and Yale respectively, the players and coaches are emphasizing the need to return to a more aggressive, rebound-oriented approach to the team game.
[img_assist|nid=21255|title=Can’t touch this.|desc=Senior tri-captain Claire Perry (21) maneuvers around a Harvard shot-blocker in the Red’s 71-57 loss to the Crimson last Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=68|height=100]
“Last weekend was just not us,” said sophomore tri-captain Kayleen Fitzsimmons. “We were really confused. We have been working on a lot of box-out drills this week, though, and I think we’ve improved a lot. Rebounding really sparks everything for this team.”
Fitzsimmons was referring to the Red’s losses to Dartmouth and Harvard last Friday and Saturday respectively, where the team’s inability to pull down some key boards contributed to the defeats.
“I don’t buy into the height thing,” Smith said. “Rebounding is just hard work and desire. It’s not like we haven’t faced tall players before. We faced Jessica Davenport on Ohio State, our [male] practice players are tall, [assistant coach] Dale Parker is 6-10. When you make rebounding a focus, it’s on the back of their minds, which is all it takes.”
Tonight the Red will step onto the court to take on Brown (3-16, 1-5). The Bears will trot out a slightly unconventional starting lineup, with three guards and two forwards.
“[Brown] has very good guards that can penetrate and get to the hoop,” Smith said. “We need to be ready, mix up our defense to keep them on their toes.”
“We just need to play them how we’ve been approaching most teams, focusing on team defense,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ll need to be helping out one another.”
While Brown does not feature a clear-cut leading scorer, small forward Ashley King-Bischof leads the way with 11.8 points per game, pulling down 6.2 rebounds per contest as well.
“She does some nice things with her back to the basket, as well as facing up,” Smith said. “She’s very versatile.”
With such a large turnover in its roster from last year, Brown is still trying to find its personality. It is not uncommon to see a different player come off the bench each game and put up double digits for the Bears.
“They are an athletic team,” Smith said. “They have a lot of tall, young players and a couple off the bench who are good, but young.”
Offensively, the Red need to focus on what has been the bread and butter of the offense during its winning streak, moving the ball and taking high percentage shots.
“We need to not get sucked into what defense they’re throwing at us but instead let our point guards just play the game,” said sophomore forward Shannan Scarselletta. “We all know how to play basketball and we shouldn’t worry so much about specific sets.”
Tomorrow, the Red will leave Rhode Island for Connecticut to face a Yale team (10-10, 3-3) that is 7-1 at home, including 3-0 in conference.
“They get a very good student crowd,” Smith said. “I think it’s the men’s soccer team that brings some of the atmosphere. The crowd is very feisty — they do a lot of heckling. It’s a fun atmosphere.”
“They have some good fans,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s a crazy place to play.”
Channeling some of that energy will be Chinenye Okafor, who Smith called the Bulldog’s “emotional leader.” She is one of two Yale players who grab roughly 10 rebounds a game, snatching 8.7 per contest, while teammate Erica Davis pulls down 9.4 per game. Davis has also to swatted away 41 shots and has put up 16 points per game — shooting the ball 51.4 percent. The Bulldogs do not have to pound it inside for offense, however. They can hit the outside jumper, with two starters shooting around 40 percent from behind the arc, as well as draw a foul and knock down the free toss (70.7 percent as a team).
To counter the multiple threats Yale presents, Smith emphasized the importance of staying home on defense.
“We’re going to have to try to take care of our own on defense and not rely on help so much,” she said. “The Dartmouth game was a good lesson to be aware of where the shooters are on the floor. We can’t be so caught up in an offense that we lose our men on defense.”