February 15, 2008

W. Basketball Tips Off With Harvard, Dartmouth

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“The three of us, being 5-1, this is what it’s all about.”
Women’s basketball head coach Dayna Smith evidently knows what she’s talking about, having led the Red (13-6) to a 5-1 record and a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League. Beginning tonight, the Red will welcome Harvard (12-8, 5-1 Ivy) and Dartmouth (8-12, 5-1) to Newman Arena to see which color will end the weekend at the top of the Ancient Eight: Crimson, Green or Red.
“We talked about this after the Penn game — how we were going to prepare all week to go out there and get a big home sweep,” Smith said. “We’re excited to have them on our court, and we’re just ready and anxious to see how we match up with the two top teams in the league. … We know that Harvard and Dartmouth are the teams traditionally that you have to go through to get to the championship, and we’re just so excited to have this opportunity.”
[img_assist|nid=27823|title=Ready for liftoff|desc=Junior Jeomi Maduka (45) and the Red will welcome Harvard and Dartmouth to Newman to battle for supremacy in the Ivies.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
As travel partners, the Crimson and the Green have played identical conference schedules, each losing one game — against each other. Harvard, which opened the season as the overwhelming preseason Ivy favorite, faltered in its conference opener when it welcomed Dartmouth to Cambridge, Mass. On its home court, the Crimson shot just 34.5 percent from the field and lost 52-47.
After a three-week layoff, Harvard stormed into Dartmouth’s Leede Arena seeking vengeance. After another low-scoring and poor-shooting performance from both teams, the Crimson were able to drag themselves out of Hanover, N.H., with a hard-fought 47-34 win.
The way Cornell is playing now, however, 47 or 34 points won’t be enough to take down the Red. Cornell leads the Ivy League in scoring, totaling 66.5 points per game. Harvard sits in second at 65.3, while the Green, ranked sixth in scoring with 53.5 ppg, has had to rely on its league-leading defense throughout the season (59.2 points allowed per game). Cornell (60.5) and Harvard (63.4) round out the top-3 defensive teams in the conference.
With the numbers being so close between the three teams, the Red’s home-court advantage could be a big factor in this game. Although Harvard and Dartmouth are both undefeated on the road in Ivy play, Cornell is undefeated at home through the first half of the conference schedule and has only lost twice in Newman, both defeats coming at the hands of solid teams — St. Bonaventure (16-9) and Bowling Green (14-6).
“We’re playing good basketball right now,” Smith said. “I think the players are fired up, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to get them on our court, when the three of us have and same record, and for us to battle it out and see where we stand amongst the top teams in the league.”
Cornell, having relied on a good mix of inside and outside play all season, will once again have to rely on both the frontcourt and backcourt against its two opponents this weekend. Harvard has six girls above 6-0 on its roster, compared with Cornell’s and Dartmouth’s four apiece. Additionally, Harvard boasts 6-7 junior Emma Moretzsohn, the tallest woman in the Ivy League.
Still, Cornell and Dartmouth’s frontcourts have kept pace with Harvard’s stable of bigs. The Crimson’s 6-1-and-taller club averages 79.5 minutes, 28.2 points and 20.3 rebounds a game. Cornell’s group, led by 6-1 junior co-captain Moina Snyder and 6-2 junior Jeomi Maduka, get 78.1 minutes, 30.2 points, and 18.3 boards a game. Dartmouth’s bigs produce 17 points and 18.1 rebounds in 72.3 minutes.
“We’ve played other teams that had size, like St. Francis who had a 6-8, 6-7 and a 6-4 girl,” Snyder said. “So we’ve been used to playing against teams with good size. We just play the same way, we’re not going to really adapt to Harvard. Knowing that [Jeomi] and I are the tallest people on the team at 6-1 and 6-2, we’re planning on just playing strong for this defense.”
The Red will also rely on strong backcourt play, where all three teams get the majority of its offence. Harvard’s leading scorers are 5-8 junior point guard Emily Tay and 5-9 senior guard Lindsay Hallion at 10.6 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. The duo also combines for 8.4 assists per game. Dartmouth is led by 5-7 shooting guard Koren Schram with 11.6 ppg.
To counter the opposing guards, Cornell will be led into Newman Arena by its floor-general, sophomore point guard Lauren Benson. Benson leads the Ivy League with 5.47 assists per game, compared to 4.8 from the current runner up — Harvard’s Emily Tay.
In the absence of junior Kayleen Fitzsimmons, the Red has depended on the tandem of sophomore guards Allie Fedorowicz and Virginia McMunigal to pick up the slack. Since losing Fitzsimmons to injury with just one out-of-conference game remaining, Fedorowicz has filled in with 7 ppg in seven starts, while McMunigal has contributed 9.1 ppg off the bench, up from 3.8 prior to Fitzsimmons’ injury. Senior co-captain Gretchen Gregg has also stepped up her game since the Red lost Fitzsimmons, averaging 11.3 ppg compared to 7.5 before the injury.
Harvard and Dartmouth will also both be playing against Columbia this weekend, a team that has gone overlooked so far but does have an upset victory over Cornell under its belt. At 4-2, if Columbia can somehow pull off upsets against both teams this weekend, the Lions may end up battling for the Ivy title.
While battling its toughest conference opponents of the season, Cornell will also be supporting the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Think Pink initiative by wearing pink jerseys against Dartmouth tomorrow. All things considered, it looks to be a big weekend for the Red.
“It’s huge,” Snyder said. “Huge. Like I’ve said before, every weekend counts. We should approach it just like it’s any other weekend, because it’s the Ivy League and you can’t afford to lose. But on the other hand, all three of us are tied for first, and it’s the Think Pink weekend. Everything matters, so we’ve just been using the energy to practice extra hard and really focus on the basketball aspect and not let anything overwhelm us — cause you can get overwhelmed.”