February 6, 2008

W. Cagers Find One Another on Court

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While the women’s basketball team can boast of having the Ivy League’s second-best scoring defense, it is their league-leading offense that has been most impressive this season. The first-place Red (11-6, 3-1 Ivy) are averaging a league-high 65.1 points per game, more than defending champion Harvard and the most for Cornell since the 2001-02 team scored 65.8 points a game to finish second behind the Crimson.
One of the biggest improvements, in terms of the numbers, between last season and this year has been in assists. Last year, the Red scored 59 points per game with 11.4 assists. This season, the Red is averaging 15.6 assists per game, tops in the Ivy League and more than the 14.8 assists the 2001-02 squad tallied each game. So far this year, 28 percent of Cornell’s field goals have come off an assist, up from 22 percent last season.
“There hasn’t been a major change in the offensive system, but we have emphasized scoring off primary breaks or early transitions,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “The players have bought into it, and we have been able to simplify things by looking for a cut to the basket or a direct pass from the wing to the post.”
[img_assist|nid=27347|title=One step ahead|desc=Sophomore point guard Lauren Benson leads the Ivy League with 5.4 assists per game.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]One major change has been the development of sophomore point guard Lauren Benson. Benson leads the team, and the Ivy League, with 5.4 assists per game — up from 2.7 last season.
“Everyone, including Lauren, has a better understanding of the offense,” Smith said. “Lauren now knows where to be and how the defense will react. She’s making smarter decisions, reading the defense and knows that there are two or three decisions available to her.”
After earning a starting spot midway through last season, Benson’s breakout sophomore year has coincided with, as well as being a big part of, the improvement of the entire team.
“Everyone has been more comfortable reading the defense and connecting as we’ve gained experience,” Smith said. “Particularly Lauren, who only started half of last season, has been able to get more comfortable in the offense.”
Benson has had many targets to go to this year, including senior co-captain Gretchen Gregg. After last year’s fourth-leading scorer and perimeter threat, Claire Perry ’07, graduated, Gregg has filled the role of full-time starter in impressive fashion. Gregg is now the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but her 45 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc is more than double Perry’s effort from 2006-07.
The frontcourt has been a strength for the Red all season, as junior Jeomi Maduka leads the team with 13.8 points a game to go with junior co-captain Moina Snyder’s 8.9 points. Snyder also has 2.5 assists per game this year to put her at tenth in the Ivy League — where Benson finished in the Ivy League standings last season.
“Just find the open person, don’t be selfish with the ball, things will go great and you’ll win,” Snyder said earlier this season.
Benson’s development at the point guard position has also allowed junior guard Kayleen Fitzsimmons to become more of a scoring threat for the Red. Fitzsimmons, who shared the load at point guard in her first two years, is averaging 10.5 points a game for the Red and is now able to play more as a scoring guard with Benson at the point.
With Snyder and Maduka in the post, Gregg a threat on the perimeter, and Fitzsimmons able to score on a drive or from 3-point range, Benson has been able to orchestrate an offense loaded with scoring potential. The result, in addition to leading the Ivy League in scoring and assists, has been a league-leading assist-to-turnover ratio and the second-highest shooting percentage in the league.
“One reason for the increase in assists is that our shooting percentage has gone up,” Benson said. “People are finishing more.”
Each improvement has built on the rest and contributed to the Red’s offensive explosion this season. Each player now knows her responsibility and is comfortable in her role, particularly in the backcourt, where there is no question that Benson is the point guard.
“Everyone has matured together, and everyone has a better understanding and knows where to be,” Benson said. “You’re much more comfortable, so you just know what’s happening. You don’t think about the game. You just play the game.”