Following the short Thanksgiving hiatus, Cornell women’s basketball returned to action this past weekend, splitting two games to Pitt and Saint Francis with a loss and win, respectively.
“Overall, it was a very good road trip for us,” said head coach Dayna Smith. “We played two very good teams … and knew it would be tough. I’m very happy we split … that we were able to learn from our mistakes against Pitt and were able turn it back on [against] Saint Francis.”
Entering Saturday’s game against Pitt (6-0), Cornell (5-2) was looking to add another win to its hot 4-1 start to the season. Despite a season-high 21 points from senior forward Nia Marshall, the Red struggled offensively and was unable to overcome a notoriously intense Pitt defense in its 56-44 loss.
“We had discussed running our offense and running at a fast pace on the primary breaks,” said freshman forward Maddy Reed. “At the beginning of the game, I think we were a little bit scared on offense and not using that speed that we had. However, we got into the groove by the end of the game, but by then, it was too late.”
Over the first 10 minutes of the game, the Red trailed by no more than two points, and actually led 10-8 lead early in the game. However, Pitt would pull away as the Red proved unable to handle its opponent’s increasing defensive pressure. Pitt ended the second quarter on a 17-5 run, which gave the team a 32-18 halftime lead it never relinquished.
“We have to learn to ‘stop the bleeding,’” said senior guard Megan LeDuc. “Basketball is a game of runs and after the Pitt game, I think we have realized that we have to come together as a team when our opponents start to go on a run.”
Cornell shot 34.7 percent from the field for the game and gave up 21 turnovers against a team which entered the game ranked second nationally in scoring defense and holds opponents to an average45.8 points a game. Despite the defensive prowess of its opponents, many turnovers from Cornell were unforced mistakes, an area of focus going into the next game against Saint Francis (2-3).
“A lot of [our turnovers] were unforced,” Smith said. “We looked back on the film and probably 50 percent were just poor decisions on our part. We’ve have to learn to take what the defense gives us. There were driving lanes and opportunities to score in different ways, and we just made extremely poor decisions.”
In stark contrast with the defensively-focused Pitt game, the following game against Saint Francis featured a nationally ranked top four offensive team who scores an average of 91.5 points per game.
“St. Francis plays a very different type of basketball than any team we have faced,” LeDuc said. “They are a run and gun type of team and have a lot of energy and knew we had to come out with more energy to set the tone from the very beginning. We also had a sour taste in our mouths from the way we played against Pitt and were really excited to have the opportunity to get a win just two days later.”
The Red certainly came out with more energy than the previous game as the team ended the first quarter with an impressive 22-5 lead. In the following three quarters, Cornell was able to hold off several runs by Saint Francis to win the game 78-72.
“We were able to break the initial line of pressure and get a lot of easy layups and transition points early on,” Smith said. “[Compared] to Friday’s game, we were able to make better decisions [by] taking good shots and just not forcing anything.”
Notably, Cornell was able to hold its opponents to 20 points below their scoring averages in both games, displaying the team’s focus on defense this season.
“Defense has been a major focus, especially just working together and talking off and on ball,” Reed said. “We aren’t necessarily going to be able to defend one on one, so working together will be important in pressuring the ball.”
Moving forward, the Red hopes to continue to improve upon one of the best seasons in recent history and contend for an Ivy League championship. With a 5-2 record, Cornell is number two in the Ivy League behind Harvard’s 4-1 record.
“I think these games will be important in finding and fixing what our faults are, especially before Ivy League play,” Smith said. “I love seeing how – for the second straight time – we came back from a loss to correct our mistakes immediately. Hopefully we can just take everything we learned into Ivy play in January.”