March 7, 2008

M. Cagers Aim For Perfect Ivy Season

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With all the excitement from last weekend’s Ivy League-clinching weekend, it is hard to imagine that the Red still have games to play today and tomorrow. And the games are far from meaningless. If the team manages to sweep this weekend’s matches against Penn and Princeton, it would not only give the Red an undefeated Ivy season and make the team’s resume more impressive to the members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
The Red will try to overcome an 18-game road skid against the Quakers tonight and attempt to have the Ivy League’s first undefeated season since Penn’s 2002-03 squad.
“Just the fact that we can close the Ivy League undefeated is big,” said junior guard Jason Battle. “Being 14-0 in the Ivy League doesn’t happen often.”
An undefeated record will help the Red face an easier opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With Penn and Princeton having bad RPIs, a loss would hurt the Red’s chances of staying in the No. 12-to-No. 14 seed range.
“[Despite the excitement of last weekend], I definitely feel that this weekend is important as well,” Battle said. “We do not need to lose these games now because that would hurt our seeding and location.”
Before the Red can think about going undefeated in league play, though, the team will have to step into one of college basketball’s most storied arenas. The Quakers’ Palestra has traditionally been a place of unwelcome memories for its visitors. In fact, the Red hasn’t won in the Palestra since the 1988-89 season.
“The Palestra is a tough place to play and we haven’t won there in many years,” Battle said. “It’s a gym with a lot of history and basketball seems to be the most important sport at Penn. The fans are always there screaming. It’s a great atmosphere, but it’s a tough place to play.”[img_assist|nid=28626|title=Reflection perfection|desc=Sophomore Louis Dale (12) had 34 points in wins against Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Unlike years past, however, the Red will enter the Palestra having clinched an Ivy League championship already. With the chance to play spoiler, one could imagine how raucous the Quaker loyals will be. Despite the expected noise, the Red feels that it will be prepared for the contest based on past contests thisseason in similar environments.
“We related it a lot to games that we played earlier in the season when we played Syracuse and Duke,” Foote said.
In both contests, the Red lost, but the squad played a solid game against No. 5/6 Duke.
In the first game against the Quakers, the Red won, 87-74, after almost surrendering a 15-point lead before pulling away. In the contest, Penn was without one of its better players — and second leading scorer — freshman Tyler Bernardini. The addition of the standout freshman and the fact that the game is on the road will make for a close matchup.
In previous wins against both squads, the Red realizes that its defense was its weak point.
“Both games we did not guard out of bounds plays well and we weren’t getting as many stops as we want on the defensive end.”
“Our defense is going to be a big key to winning these games,” Foote said. “I think we are a lot better since then, especially on the defensive end. In the first game, we gave up a lot of points, which we really shouldn’t have.”
The game will also be a return visit for head coach Steve Donahue, who used to be an assistant for the Quakers.
Saturday night, the Red travels to Princeton, N.J., to take on the Tigers.
Cornell felled Princeton 72-61 on Feb. 8 earlier this year. That loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Tigers, and started the squad on its current nine-game losing streak. The Tigers have not topped the 70-point plateau since Jan. 9.
Still, Princeton gave Cornell a run for its money last time the two teams met up. The Tigers stayed in the game with pinpoint 3-point shooting.
“It’s a big weekend for us even though we have already captured the league,” Battle said. “We have to still play hard to win these games.”
It was Kyle Koncz and Kevin Steuerer who lit it up from long distance, shooting a combined 8-for-11. If the Red can keep those two in check, it could potentially clinch an undefeated season.
“We feel that there will be as much excitement, if not more if we go undefeated,” said junior Jeff Foote. “We are on a great run. We want to finish it out.”