March 20, 2008

Underdog Cornell Faces Stanford in NCAA M. Hoops Tourney Opening Round

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Some reporters have called it the “Battle of the Nerds.” Some have branded it the “Battle for the Better Red.” But tomorrow’s matchup between the Red and the Cardinal can simply be titled a first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament. The Red (22-5) has an opportunity of a lifetime, facing a No. 3-seeded Stanford (26-7) in its home state at the Honda Center.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for us,” said sophomore Louis Dale. “We have nothing to lose. We’re just going to come out and play as hard as we can. … I don’t think we’re really focusing on being the underdog. We’re just going to stay within ourselves and do what we can do.”

[img_assist|nid=28911|title=Size Does Matter|desc=Sophomore Brook Lopez (right) and Stanford are hoping to use their post presence to dominate Cornell, and will be looking prevent the Red from establishing the outside shot.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]

The Red will enter the game as underdogs for different reasons — weaker schedule, weaker conference, location — but none of the aforementioned factors is more important than Stanford’s front line. Stanford features two talented sophomore 7-0 twins, Brook and Robin Lopez. The duo have keyed the Cardinal’s successful regular season, leading them to a second-place finish in the Pac-10 regular season and Pac-10 conference tournament. Brook Lopez is rumored to be a lock in the NBA Draft as a lottery pick averaging 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds.
“They’re a lot bigger, like heavier and stronger, so I think a big key for us will be keeping them off the glass, and making sure they only get one shot,” said junior center Jeff Foote. “I think if we can do that, we can be pretty successful.”
Foote, along with senior Jason Harford and sophomore Alex Tyler, will have the duty of keeping the Cardinal off the boards. Stanford is regarded as one of the best, if not the best rebounding team in the nation. The team from Northern California comes into the contest averaging 38.8 rebounds a game, including 13.2 offensive rebounds.
“Rebounding [will be the key to the game],” said ESPN’s Jay Bilas in an interview with The Sun. “[Cornell] has to hold them to one shot because they’re so much bigger. They have to make shots and hold them to one.”
While the Red come into the game on a 16-game winning streak, the Cardinal enter the contest having lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in its last two appearances. Stanford head coach Trent Johnson realizes that in order to win, his team will have to key in on the Red’s deft shooters.

[img_assist|nid=28910|title=Master and Commander|desc=Steve Donahue (left) addresses his players during Cornell’s open practice on Wednesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

“The challenge is going to be for us to be able to defend [Cornell’s] shooters,” Johnson said. “They have five or six kids that can shoot the ball from deep. We’re going to have to guard the 3-point line.”
The Red come into the contest as one of the NCAA’s best shooting teams, and not just from the 3-point line. The Red ranks in the top-10 in the nation in field goal percentage, 3-point and free throw shooting. Cornell is paced by sophomore and Ivy Player of the Year Louis Dale, All Ivy first-team sophomore Ryan Wittman and junior Adam Gore.
Dale enters the contest after a set of strong weekend performances in the Ivy League. The sophomore explained that junior Conor Mullen spoke with him about Stanford junior point guard Mitch Johnson, with whom Mullen played with at the same high school.
“Conor told me little things that Mitch might do and what moves he might like to do,” Dale said.
“I think [Dale] is a key to a lot of what they do,” Johnson said. “He is their general and does a lot of things. … He’s a tough player. It will be exciting to go up against him.”

[img_assist|nid=28909|title=Ivy Elite|desc=The men’s basketball team plays in it’s first NCAA Tournament in 20 years tomorrow, and will face third-seeded Stanford. Senior Jason Hartford, sophomores Ryan Wittman and Lous Dale, and junior Adam Gore (left-to-right) are projected starters for the game|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]

According to head coach Steve Donahue, the Red will go into the contest looking for a win, as opposed to just being happy of being selected for the tournament.
“[The team] is not overwhelmed by this situation,” Donahue said. “If we lose, I feel confident that we’re going to lose because Stanford’s a better basketball team and not that we’re overwhelmed with this stage.”
The matchup will air live on CBS at 5 p.m. Eastern.