March 14, 2008

W. Cagers Face Unknown Foe for NCAA Berth

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In 2000, as Dartmouth was finishing its run at a thirteenth Ivy League title, the state quarters for New Hampshire and Massachusetts were released. The next year, as Harvard was just beginning on its path to its seventh Ivy League crown, the state quarter for New York was released. On Wednesday, those three quarters were placed into a bag to represent the states of the three schools that shared the women’s basketball Ivy League championship.
The newcomer of the three — the New York quarter — was randomly pulled out of the bag, giving Cornell a bye into Sunday’s championship game of the two-game playoff series to determine who will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament. The winner of the Harvard-Dartmouth matchup on Friday will play Cornell two days later at Columbia, with Cornell still seeking its first ever trip to the NCAA tournament after winning a share of its first Ivy League championship this year.
[img_assist|nid=28848|title=Misdirection|desc=Sophomore point guard Lauren Benson will direct the Red’s offense in Sunday’s game, with NCAAs on the line.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“We were excited,” said head coach Dayna Smith of winning the draw to determine which team would receive a bye. “It’s something where it didn’t matter who you played or when you played, but once you got [the bye], it was a nice added bonus and you appreciate a couple extra days to prepare and rest up.”
Cornell will have to wait for the result of Friday’s game before it will know what team it will face Sunday. The Red has played against both teams twice this season, while the trio has all compiled identical records against each other en route to identical 11-3 Ivy records.
Cornell (19-8) split with both Harvard (18-10) and Dartmouth (14-14), winning at home and losing on the road. Harvard and Dartmouth split their series, each losing at home. The Red’s and the Green’s third loss came against Columbia on the road, while the Crimson lost its final game of the season at Yale to fall into a three-way tie for first.
“We’ve played good basketball against both teams,” Smith said. “This weekend there will be some great games. Dartmouth is a defensive team, Harvard is an offensive team. We’ve played well [in Ithaca] against them, but I think we were a little bit out of character offensively at their place. We didn’t really work together.”
The two-game playoff will be held at Columbia — a neutral site — where Cornell is 0-1 on the season.
“I really don’t think [where we play] will make a difference,” said sophomore Allie Fedorowicz. “I mean, it’s great to play at home, but I think that right now we’re at the point where we’re going to take care of business wherever we need to.”
“I don’t know,” Smith said when asked how much she thought playing at a neutral site would matter. “It’s unprecedented — we’ve never been in this situation. … Going to the neutral site, I hope we can get some fans to come down to the city and hopefully there’s a nice alumni base. … I’m not so sure what gym we play in matters — we’ve got to play good basketball, and that’s all we can really focus on.”
Regardless of the venue, the Red will have its hands full against a strong, offensive-minded Harvard squad or a tenacious, defensive-minded Dartmouth five. After beating Harvard 85-61 and Dartmouth 50-43 in Ithaca, the Red headed up to Hanover, N.H., and Cambridge, Mass., two weekends later, and fell to the Green and the Crimson, 46-44 and 51-48, respectively.
“They’re both very good teams — very scrappy — and both teams were very physical with us,” Smith said. “Raising our level of play is going to be very important. Both teams are also tremendous rebounding teams. They really were effective up at their places out-rebounding us in key situations and getting some put backs.
“Harvard obviously has some height, so we have to contain their inside game. Both teams, particularly Harvard, were able to score on penetration in the second game, so for both of those teams we’ve really been focusing on our perimeter play on the defensive end and trying to contain some ball handlers.”
The key difference between the two teams is how they’ve won all season — Harvard scores, while Dartmouth prevents opponents from scoring. The Crimson scored 65.3 points per game — second only to the Red’s 65.9 — while the Green ranked seventh in the Ivy League, scoring 54.2 ppg. Dartmouth led the conference in scoring defense, holding its opponents to just 56.6 ppg. Cornell and Harvard rounded out the top-3, allowing 58.2 and 62.6 ppg, respectively.
On Sunday, the Red will depend largely on Ivy League Player of the Year, junior forward Jeomi Maduka, and All-Ivy Honorable Mention selections, junior co-captain forward Moina Snyder and sophomore point guard Lauren Benson. Maduka is the first women’s basketball Player of the Year in school history, adding to this team’s place in the program’s history.
“It’s a great thing. J being Player of the Year is pretty awesome,” Snyder said. “It’s a personal honor, and we’re very proud of that, but our mission is not done. … We still have to win this Sunday and go to the tournament.”
Despite winning its first Ivy League title in school history, Cornell has not yet secured a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Regardless, the 2007-08 squad was the first Cornell women’s basketball team to win a championship and was the most successful team in the program’s history. Still, the Red has not yet accomplished all of its goals.
“When you go into [the season] you prepare for the championship, and in wanting to be the champion you know that along with that is the automatic bid the NCAA tournament,” Smith added. “So when you tie, it’s great to receive that automatic bid — but you grow up wanting to be in the Big Dance, wanting to see your name on the TV during the selection show, getting to travel and experience big time basketball and being one of the elite schools in the country.
“That’s something that’s been a dream for every one of our players, and its another goal we want to accomplish. That’s been our goal this week. We have one game to get there. It’s a one-game season, and now we have to take care of our business.”