January 21, 2008

W. Hoops Has Strong Break

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While most Cornellians used the winter break to catch up on sleep, catch up with old friends and catch Drew Carry on “The Price is Right,” the women’s basketball team was busy finishing up its non-conference schedule in historic fashion.
Cornell’s 75-60 victory over NJIT to finish out-of-league play was head coach Dayna Smith’s 50th win with the Red and the 300th win in the program’s history. The win also brought the Red to 8-5, its best non-conference finish since the team went 8-4 through the 1999-00 non-conference schedule.
The Red opened the winter break by hosting of the Cornell Classic, welcoming Gardner-Webb, Bowling Green and Florida Gulf Coast to Newman Arena. In the first round, the Red got 19 points each from juniors Kayleen Fitzsimmons and Jeomi Maduka to beat Gardner-Webb, 72-59. Senior tri-captain Gretchen Gregg added 14 points on the strength of a 4-for-4 performance from behind the arc.
The win over Gardner-Webb moved Cornell to the championship game against Bowling Green, which came into the game with an undefeated 5-0 record. The Falcons proved to be too much for the host, forcing 24 Red turnovers on the way to a 70-54 win.
“We were obviously glad we made it to the championship game, but we ran into an excellent Bowling Green team in the championship,” Smith said. “They’re a high-caliber team, and we played well with them. Being tied at halftime, we played a good first half. It was one of our best halves of the year. The second half they showed us why they went to the Sweet 16 last year.”
The Red got back on track after losing in the championship game of the Cornell Classic by tacking three wins during a four-game road trip, which included a trip to the Dayton Flyers Tournament. Cornell began the trip with an 82-47 victory over Colgate. Five players reached double digits in scoring, while the team shot a collective 58.9 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point territory.
Despite shooting just 31 percent from the floor in the following game at St. Francis, the Red committed what was then a season-low 11 turnovers on the way to a 63-51 victory.
“Turnovers have been a big problem,” said junior tri-captain Moina Snyder. “We’re averaging just under 20 turnovers a game, and that’s a lot. Against certain teams, a turnover is two points. Multiply each turnover by two and that’s how many points you’re giving the other team. Our main focus has been to cut down on turnovers and improve on rebounding, which we have been doing.”
The Red headed into the Dayton Tournament having won four of its previous five games but was unable to defeat Dayton in the first round, losing 74-58. The Flyers got 44 points from the bench and out-rebounded the Red 54-34 to overshadow Cornell junior Maduka’s game-high 17 points.
The Red earned third-place by defeating Texas A&M CC in the consolation game of the Dayton Tournament, in large measure due to a 59-34 rebound advantage for Cornell. Sophomore Lauren Benson contributed a career-high nine assists, while Snyder (15 points, 14 rebounds) and Maduka (13 and 13) each tallied double-doubles for the Red.
After losing to St. Bonaventure to open the 2008 calendar year, the Red finished up its non-conference schedule with wins over Binghamton and NJIT. Against the Binghamton Bearcats, senior tri-captain Gretchen Gregg connected on her first five 3-point attempts on the way to scoring a career high 21 points. The Red’s 61-59 win was the smallest margin of victory of any game the team played over the winter break, as all other games were decided by at least eight points.
To conclude non-conference play, Cornell took down NJIT 75-60 to bring their road record above .500 at 4-3. Despite trailing by a score of 20-6 seven minutes into the game, the Red regrouped and went into halftime with a 40-34 lead. Cornell opened the second with a 14-2 run on the way to the 15-point victory.
“Our big challenge was to not overlook the NJIT game,” Snyder said. “We had a really good preseason and the results were there. I think that last game was really important to get ready for Columbia.”
“We finished with five losses against five teams with double-digit wins,” Smith said. “We learned how to compete with some good teams. I felt that our forwards came together as a group, the guards have come about … So far I’m happy with what I’ve seen.”
The Red began Ivy League competition as the only team with an above-.500 record during non-conference play. Harvard, the pre-season No. 1 pick, went 7-7 before losing to Dartmouth to open their Ivy League slate.
“It’s Ivy League, that’s the problem,” said Snyder. “Anybody can win, we saw that with the first game when Harvard lost to Dartmouth.”
The pre-season No. 2 pick did not have a similar result, however, as Cornell was able to defeat Columbia convincingly, 73-57. Maduka led the Red with 19 points and 10 boards. Snyder added 13 points to go with 6 rebounds, and all other starters contributed at least 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
“After the Cornell classic we talked about turnovers quite a bit and the number of shot opportunities we’re missing out on by being careless with the ball,” Smith said. “The Columbia game was a good game for us. We distributed the ball very well with 21 assists. Only nine turnovers; we’re very happy with that.”