Win by win, the men’s basketball team’s chances of attaining an Ivy League championship becomes greater. Already owning an undefeated 8-0 record, the squad has many students and fans alike already picturing an appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Red, however, has not looked that far. Its focus solely lies on the next pair of games this weekend as the Red host Yale and Brown, respectively.
“For us [not listening to the hype] has been real easy,” Donahue said. “We understand why we have had success and that’s because we work extremely hard every day. I don’t think we allow distractions, whether positive or negative over the last couple of years to affect us.”
The Red (16-5, 8-0 Ivy) have already beaten both squads on the road, making them the favorite to win this weekend’s pair of games. The Red dominated the Bulldogs in New Haven, Conn., winning by 21, 65-44. The night before, the Red earned a 75-64 victory over the Bears, led by sophomore Ryan Wittman’s 21. Despite being the favorite, the Red will look to enter the contest with as much passion as if it lost the previous contests. [img_assist|nid=28090|title=Too slow|desc=Senior Jason Hartford (44) had 13 points in the Red’s 66-45 win the last time the Red played Yale.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We talked about it earlier in the week,” Donahue said. “It is as dangerous as anything to get caught up in the thinking that you are win for any other reason than the fact that you come into the gym, work extremely hard and compete with each other and respect the opponents.”
Against both teams, the Red managed to lock down some of the Ivy League’s top guards. The Red held senior Eric Flato to 0-for-four shooting and Brown’s senior Damon Huffman to two-for-12. Despite its previous success, Donahue knows the challenge of stopping the two will important to the team’s success.
“Huffman and McAndrew are so much of Brown’s offense,” Donahue said. “They always have the ball in their hands and always attacking. As a team, you have to do a good job against those two guys if you are going to do well against them as a team … Eric [Flato] is one of the better guards in the conference. We are obviously going to give him attention and try to limit his touches.”
Over the past couple of games, the Red came out to slow starts, something that the team would like to avoid.
“We have had stretches this year where we have gotten off to bad starts and we have had stretches where we have gotten off to great starts,” Donahue said. “If we talk about it and we realize that these teams are coming in here ready to play. You can’t do too much more than that and to make sure your ready to go. Starts are extremely important, especially in a game of this importance.”
“I think it’s been a little bit of a lack of focus,” Foote said. “We learned that every game when you are No. 1 is going to be hard. We really feel that way this weekend, with the Ivy League at hand, we have to win these games.”
Despite a two-game advantage in the Ivy standings, coach Donahue would still like his team to play better defense. On the season, the Red has held its opponents to an average of 42.7 percent shooting and only two of its last 10 opponents have topped 70 points.
“I think our defense can continue to get better,” Donahue said. “Our communication can be a lot better and our lack of lack of ball pressure at times. We go through stretches where we don’t pressure the ball enough, so teams are able to execute. We struggle with teams that tend to hold the ball until late in the shot clock. Lastly, our transition defense has been just so-so. That can get better as well.”
The Red’s defensive lapses almost cost the team a victory last week. Last Friday, the Red was down by five points with 25 seconds on the clock. Several Harvard miscues and three buckets by sophomore Alex Tyler’s allowed the Red to escape with a 72-71 win.
“In the Harvard game, we didn’t do a good job of communicating,” Donahue said. “I thought we let them get easy shots in transition. With Yale so good in transition, that is really a concern. As is Brown when it comes to attacking when you are not set in position.”
“We want to be real tough defensively,” Foote said. “We want to win all the loose balls and win all the 50-50 opportunities and then use that to build momentum.”
With quality Ivy League competition coming to Newman this weekend, the crowd could play a factor in this weekend’s outcome. Last time the Red was home, students and fans sold out Newman Arena, forces Penn’s coaching staff to using flash card instead of calling out plays.
“We got some signs ready to go,” Donahue said. “We did it for the Duke game, we kind of carried it over from that game. Sometimes, they can’t hear me and that’s a good thing. If they can’t hear me all the time and they just go out there and play, I trust that my guys will make good decisions. But the noise is something that we talk about and we hope that is something that will be an issue this weekend.”
Foote, who has been known to high five fans after home games.
“I love playing at home,” Foote said. “There is really no better feeling, the crowd gives you that energy and gets you really excited to play.”