February 14, 2007

Naeve Steps Up for Red in Ivy Play

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With victories over Brown and Yale over the weekend, the men’s basketball has now won six of its last seven, improving its Ivy League record to 6-2 in the process. More importantly, however, is the Red’s second-place standing in the conference, leaving itself in prime position to make a run at the title over the next three weeks. Possibly the most crucial part of Cornell’s success of late has been the play of senior center Andrew Naeve.

Over the last seven games, Naeve is averaging 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, including a dominating second-half performance on Saturday night against Yale. Against the Bulldogs, Naeve scored nine straight points late in the second half, en route to a one-point Cornell victory and a stat line — 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks — that had even the opposing coach impressed.
[img_assist|nid=21363|title=Boom shakalaka|desc=Senior Andrew Naeve (42) throws down a rim-rattler in the Red’s 60-59 win.|link=none|align=left|width=66|height=100]

“He played a great game. He was unbelievable,” said Yale head coach James Jones. “He goes for a double-double and he was not going to be denied. And he did a great job. The senior did a great job.”

Naeve has once again put together a solid season for the Red, capping off a brilliant Cornell career. After playing sparingly off the bench in his first two seasons, the 6-10 center emerged as a force in his junior campaign, starting all 27 games and averaging 6.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. However, he has truly raised his game to another level this season, raising his averages to 9.1, 7.5 and 1.86, respectively.

“Last year, especially early in the season, I was not used to playing that many minutes at that pace of the game,” Naeve said. “This year, I know what it takes to have a complete game through and through.”

In Ivy League play, the senior ranks third in the league in rebounding and second in blocked shots, trailing Harvard’s Brian Cusworth in both categories. His effort on the offensive glass in particular has led to numerous second-chance points for the Red throughout the season.

“Getting offensive rebounds is all about hustling and scrambling for the ball,” Naeve said. “Since I’ve been here, [head] coach [Steve] Donahue has stressed being aggressive on the offensive glass and kicking it out to our perimeter players for open shots.”

However, looking at just the last seven games, his numbers are even more staggering. In fact, he has compiled three double-doubles over that period, including a pair against Brown and Yale over the weekend. And he has done so while playing extremely efficiently from the floor, shooting nearly 60 percent.

“I’ve been receiving some dump offs from our outside guys, which has allowed me to get good looks at the basket,” Naeve said. “I’m shooting a much higher percentage this year because I’m much stronger down low.”

While his offense alone justifies his stance as one of the top centers in the league, his defense may even more crucial to the Red’s success. Over the last seven games, Naeve has blocked 2.7 shots per contest.

“Most of our defense is about reacting to the ball, no matter what position,” Naeve said. “It’s all about being a step ahead of the offense. Other guys have been forcing tough shots coming down the lane which has increased my block totals.”

Despite his humble attitude, there is no denying that his presence in the middle has greatly contributed to the Red’s second-ranked Ivy League defense, which has allowed just 63 points per game in conference play.

“Defensively, I’m being a lot more active,” Naeve said. “In the past, I got into foul trouble because I got lazy or tired and I wouldn’t play smart inside. I’m in a lot better shape and I’m moving my feet a lot better. I’ve become a smarter basketball player as I’ve gotten older.”