February 18, 2008

W. Basketball Beats Harvard For First Place

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In one of the biggest weekends in the program’s history at Cornell, the women’s basketball team lived up to hype as one of the hottest teams in the Ivy League. Heading into the weekend, the Red had won four games in a row and was tied atop the Ivy standings with Harvard and Dartmouth, its two opponents this weekend. Cornell rode a 50 percent shooting percentage to a 85-61 win over the Crimson, then closed out the weekend with a 50-43 Saturday win over the Green, leaving the Red in sole possession of first place in the Ivy League.
The bigger they are the harder they fall — at least that’s how the saying goes. The Red (15-6 overall, 7-1 Ivy) certainly adhered to that motto on Friday night, toppling preseason Ivy favorite Harvard (13-9, 6-2), who also had a significant size advantage on the Red. Cornell came out playing like it had something to prove and quickly found itself with a 7-0 advantage only 2:11 into the contest.
[img_assist|nid=27901|title=The race is on|desc=After moving to 7-1 in the Ivy League with wins over Harvard and Dartmouth, senior co-captain Gretchen Gregg (33) and the Red earned sole possession of first place.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“We wanted to show them right from the beginning that we were ready and going to be focused for this game,” said head coach Dayna Smith, who had beaten the Crimson only once during her time at Cornell. “Harvard tends to jump on teams so we talked about playing smart, poised basketball but having an intensity and a chip on our shoulder [to prove] that we can compete with them. We came out very focused and that was good to see. I thought we did a good job of handling the emotions of the beginning of the game and not letting the emotions get us too riled up.”
The Red’s offensive explosion was aided by its success with second-chance points. Junior forward Jeomi Maduka registered 11 boards — which combined with her 16 points for a double-double — and three other Red players grabbed six boards apiece. Despite Harvard’s height — including 6-7 Emily Moretzsohn — the Red out-rebounded the Crimson 45-25, resulting in 22 second-chance points for Cornell, compared to only two for Harvard.
“We really focused on [rebounding] during the week,” Smith said. “Both Harvard and Dartmouth are very good rebounding teams. Because they’re big they’re able to jump up and jump over lots of players and get those second-chance points. We worked on pushing them back, driving them back and just drilled it all week. The guards helped out a lot by crashing from the perimeter.”
Sophomore guard Kayleen Fitzsimmons returned from an injury to play for five minutes and sink two field goals for four points.
“We didn’t know what we could expect from [Fitzsimmons],” Smith said. “I was happy she hit a couple of shots to get herself back on the ground. She’s a huge presence for us. It’s nice to have her back.”
Sophomore guard Lauren Benson contributed 15 points and seven assists, and senior guard Gretchen Gregg led the team with 18 points, including 12 coutesy of a four-of-seven performance from 3-point range. As of Feb. 14, Gregg led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage.
“I’m just open and my teammates are doing a great job of getting me the ball. That’s really all it is,” Gregg said, when asked about her apparent knack for sinking the long shots.
While the Red’s 85 points on Friday night were the most since Smith took over the program, Cornell had to scrap for points and rely on its defense in Saturday night’s 50-43 win against Dartmouth. Despite the low-scoring and relatively close affair, the Red held the lead throughout the entire game for the second night in a row.
Maduka registered her second double-double of the weekend with a 15-point, 10-rebound performance against the Green, and the Red defense did not give up a Dartmouth field goal for the opening 10:02 of the game. The defense tired towards the end of the game, however, and allowed a 12-0 Dartmouth scoring run with under seven minutes left in the contest. With less than one minute remaining, the Green pulled to within three, making the score 46-43 — after trailing by as much as 12 points during the first half — and opted to foul. The Red came through from the charity stripe and held on for the win.
With the win over Dartmouth, the Red matched a school record for wins in a season and also recorded the first weekend sweep of the Green and Crimson in 14 years. The historic weekend did not go unnoticed by the Newman Nation; about 60 fans stuck around after the game to get signatures from the Red, who now sits alone atop the Ivy League standings with just six games remaining in the regular season.