If someone had said at the beginning of the season that the women’s basketball team would finish its season with an 8-6 Ivy record, that person would have gotten a quizzical look. Still, after a weekend in which losses to Harvard and Dartmouth caused the Red to miss out on a chance at a WNIT bid — given to the team with the best record in each conference that does not earn an NCAA birth — and an outside shot at a share of the Ivy crown, it’s hard for the team not to feel disappointed.
“Yes, we’re disappointed with the outcome of the weekend,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “I thought our preparation was good and the team showed up and was focused. Harvard and Dartmouth just played better than us. As much as it hurt being in that locker room Friday and Saturday, when you reflect on the season, it’s satisfying and we’re proud of the steps we took.”
[img_assist|nid=21837|title=Lucky number 13|desc=13. Freshman Allie Federowicz dribbles down the court during the Red’s 59-55 victory over Yale on Feb. 2.|link=none|align=left|width=74|height=100]
Friday night, the Red (12-15, 8-6 Ivy) entered its game against first-place Harvard (13-12, 11-1) needing to win-out and then hope for Harvard to drop its final three games, putting the two teams in a tie atop the league. Cornell came out of the gates filling the bottom of the nets, building a 10-point lead about halfway through the first half. Then the Red’s shots started finding the iron instead of the bottom of the net.
“I think they picked it up on defense,” said junior forward Moina Snyder. “They started changing up their strategy and we didn’t respond. … In the first part of the first half we were controlling the game because we were setting the tempo. We had a couple of fast breaks and we were more comfortable taking shots because we were setting the tempo.”
While Harvard chipped away at the lead, Cornell had trouble responding because the Crimson was shutting down the Red’s interior offense while the guards had gone cold from the perimeter — freshman Lauren Benson shot 2-of-14 on the evening, and sophomore tri-captain put in only 2-of-12 from the floor.
“We started to rush our shots and take some off-balanced shots,” Smith said. “We needed to establish an outside perimeter game so they would have to come out and defend our guards more, but that didn’t happen. We were forced to take some shots we don’t want to take … a lot of 3s.”
While the Red backcourt was only able to connect on 6-of-25 from long range, it was the Crimson backcourt, particularly point guard Emily Tay that guided Harvard into a comfortable lead.
“Emily Tay took over the game,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t so much by her scoring but by making plays for others.”
“I think their guards just stepped up,” Smith said. “They have some good guards. Emily Tay … hit some incredible shots. I thought their guards did a tremendous job controlling the tempo of the game.”
Despite going over eight minutes without a basket, the Red still only found itself down 30-26 at the half. Things only continued to go down hill from there, however, as the Crimson went on a 13-0 run over a six-minute span to open up a lead that grew to 21. Just as rebounding has been an indicator of the Red’s success all season, the same held true Friday, with Harvard pulling down 40 rebounds to Cornell’s 28.
“We knew before the game that rebounding was going to be the key of the game,” Snyder said. “They’re a fast-breaking team. Whoever got the boards was going to set the tempo. It has to be a team rebounding effort. … When we gave up the rebounds, they started to take over.”
After the bricks had stopped piling up (the Red shot 29 percent in the second half), Cornell found itself on the wrong end of a 64-48 decision. Still, the team still had the WNIT bid on the line Saturday night against Dartmouth (15-12, 9-4), who sat a half game ahead of Cornell in the standings. Again, the Red jumped out to an early lead, at one point reeling off 11 straight to put the team up 17-9. The Green’s patented motion offense was stifled by a well-prepared Red defense.
“I thought we did very well [defending the motion offense],” Smith said. “We were prepared. It just came down to 1-on-1 defense and not being able to contain the penetration on the perimeter. When you have to rotate for help it leaves people open.
“They got us on extra plays which means that extra pass once the motion is done,” Snyder said. “It’s that last five seconds on the [shot] clock.”
As the teams trotted to the locker room for intermission, Cornell was still out in front 27-23, and shooting a robust 50 percent from the floor. Like a broken record, though, a lack of rebounding — Cornell lost the battle 36-24 — was again the topic of discussion.
“That [rebounding] was the key of the game,” Smith said. “Every game we’ve out rebounded the other team, we’ve won. I think the fact that we were so preoccupied about helping out [on defense] got us out of rebounding position.”
Sydney Scott, who has been on a rebounding binge as of late — pulling down double-digit boards in her six of her last seven contests — was a large part of Dartmouth’s rebounding advantage with 13 on the night.
“I thought we did a fairly decent job on the interior,” Smith said. “Sydney Scott got some loose ball rebounds because their guards are taking so many quick shots they had a lot of misses. … She was in position because our forwards had to help a little bit too much which left her open for rebounds.”
The Red was forced to concentrate on helping because the Green ran out a three-post lineup, compared to the Red’s often-used three-guard lineup, leaving the post players worried about helping out the mismatched guard defending a Dartmouth forward. This opened up some scoring lanes for the Green’s leading scorer Ashley Taylor, who paced the Green with 25 points in the 62-51 win.
“A large part of her game is getting to the hoop and trying to create fouls and she did a good job of that,” Smith said. “We weren’t disciplined and weren’t able to stop her first and second dribble. Our rotation was late and we weren’t able to get charges. We bailed her out a couple of times. As a senior she put them on her back … which is what seniors do.”
“Ashley Taylor scores mostly out of her own creation, not out of the motion offense,” Snyder said. “We were really well prepared for the motion. … [The mismatch] left a lot more room for her to penetrate and she took advantage of that.”