With its Ivy League championship hopes hanging in the balance, the women’s basketball team welcomes Princeton and Penn to Newman Arena this weekend for a pair of critical conference matchups.
“It’s crunch time,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “We’re still in the mix. … We just have to take care of our own business and see what happens.”
Currently sitting in third place a half game ahead of the Tigers (10-11, 4-3 Ivy), the Red (9-12, 5-3) faces a tough climb to the top of the Ivy standings. And, with one more game to play against both second-place Dartmouth and front-running Harvard, Cornell is close to being able to control its own destiny.
[img_assist|nid=21443|title=Running start|desc=Freshman Lauren Benson (23) gets ready to dribble up the floor during Cornell’s 71-57 loss to Harvard on Feb. 3.|link=none|align=right|width=65|height=100]
None of that matters, however, if Cornell cannot get it done on its home court this weekend. Although the Red beat both the Tigers and Quakers on the road earlier in the season, the teams present unique challenges.
“We just have to be worried about getting wins Friday and then Saturday,” Smith said. “We’re expecting two very good games from two very good teams who are going to be very ready to play us.”
Against Princeton today, Cornell will have the task to slow junior Meagan Cowher, one of the Ivy League’s most prolific offensive players. Leading the league with an average of 22.7 points per game in conference play, Cowher scored 35 against the Red when the two teams met a little over one month ago.
“She’s a fantastic player,” Smith said. “She really hurt us last time. We need to do the best job we can in shutting her down.”
Despite Cowher’s impressive performance, Cornell earned the victory in that pervious contest behind some strong offensive efforts from its own players. Senior Claire Perry paced the team with a season-high 20 points, while Moina Snyder, Jeomi Maduka and Shannan Scarselleta each had 14.
Leading for most of the game, the Red momentarily fell behind when Princeton, propelled by a 14-4 run, took a 66-65 advantage with less than two minutes to play. However, with some strong defensive play and crucial foul shooting, Cornell went on to take the 70-66 win.
In the first meeting with Penn (8-12, 3-4), Cornell struggled early, trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half. The Red worked its way back with a 26-4 run beginning at the end of the first half and stretching into the second.
Similar to the Princeton contest, Cornell struggled to put the Quakers away as Penn tied the score with as little as 6:08 to play. Even so, the Red dominated from that point on to earn the 67-58 victory.
Sophomore Kayleen Fitzsimmons led Cornell with a season-high 17 points in that contest, while Penn received a combined 29 points from Joey Rhoads and Monica Nalter.
The Red will again have to focus on Rhoads and Nalter Saturday evening. Each player is averaging 16.6 points per game this season, good for third-best among Ivy League players.
All the same, Smith is weary of her team looking past the rest of the Penn squad and solely concentrating on those two players.
“We tried to key on them last time, but other players stepped up,” she said. “We have to do a good job at playing team defense and stopping their bench from having a big impact on the game.”
As for Cornell, Smith feels that her team still has a lot of confidence in itself despite a disappointing loss at Yale last weekend and only one win in its last four games.
One of the main factors behind this feeling is that the Red believe much of its struggles have stemmed not from necessarily playing better teams, but from an inability to play at its highest level.
“We have been straying from what we want to do,” Smith said. “We do feel like our play has been one of the reasons behind those losses. … We need to do a better job at executing our game plan.”