Guru's Ivy Overniter: Penn Regains 2-Game Lead; Harvard Qualifies; 3-Way Fight for 4th
PHILADELPHIA – Will the new four-team Ivy tournament to be held in two weeks at the Palestra become the playoff Penn could have done without?
Until the men’s and women’s winners emerge with the automatic bids to the NCAA tournament that discussion will intensify on the women’s side in direct proportion to the Quakers’ grip on the top spot in the standings.
Coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad put another weekend sweep in the books, celebrating senior night on Saturday with a competitive 68-59 win over Columbia in this legendary 90-year-old treasured venue that will house the Ivy festivities.
For the second straight day a couple of unexpected upsets impacted the Quakers (17-7, 10-1 Ivy), this time in returning the two-game breathing level over Princeton (14-10, 8-3 Ivy), which was reduced by one a week ago when Penn lost at Yale.
Tournament wise, following Penn and Princeton claiming the first two spots on Friday night, Harvard put Brown’s playoff chances in jeopardy with a slim 66-63 victory at the Bears’ Pizzotola Center Saturday afternoon in Providence, R.I., that enabled the Crimson (20-5, 8-4) to become the third participant.
Since Brown (14-11, 5-7) and Cornell (15-10, 6-6) were tied for the fourth and final spot at the day’s outset, the Bears’ loss fired up the Big Red to come back off the loss to Penn here Friday and win at Princeton 55-44 in Jadwin Gym in Central New Jersey take a one-game lead in the spot.
The other part of that dynamic was ending the Tigers’ eight-game run following an 0-2 start on the Ivy slate and moving them back to the two-game gap behind Penn.
Yale beat Dartmouth 58-44 at home in the John J. Lee Ampitheater in New Haven, Conn., to eliminate the Big Green (7-18, 2-10) as the Bulldogs (14-11, 5-7) moved into a fifth-place tie with Brown, a game behind Cornell.
The Penn victory here over Columbia formally dropped the Lions (13-12, 3-9) out of the race.
Way back in the preseason, a glance at the Ivy schedule concerning Penn and Princeton showed the most perilous part for each on the back end with each visiting Harvard next weekend besides the Dartmouth stop and then meeting each other here the following Tuesday, March 7 at 7 p.m.
But with Penn’s hold on first and not much left, should Harvard beat Princeton Friday night and Penn win at Dartmouth, the race will be over before the Quakers even get back into Cambridge, Mass., Saturday from Friday’s visit to the Big Green up north in Hanover, N.H.
As it is, Princeton and Harvard are likely to meet in one of the semifinals, relieving Penn of meeting one of the two fierce opponents in the tourney.
In the old days dating back as recent as last season, the focus on the league race right now would be on the three remaining contenders for the title won in the regular season and automatic bid. But with three more teams alive into next weekend for the fourth spot, that’s more attention to deeper in the standings than ever before.
According to Penn coach Mike McLaughlin, all this evaluation is great for the league but tying his team’s situation to the picture is not a discussion he needs to have for the moment.
“It’s great,” McLaughlin said of the suspense for the last qualifier. “The battle who’s going to get that fourth spot, it switches, it turns. They have a weekend to battle it out.
“I think it’s cool. It’s brought a lot of excitement, a lot of interest in our league, Megan (Columbia coach Megan Griffith) and I were talking about it before the game – I’ve never see people talk about a playoff so much as this one.
“I’ve been around basketball a long time and played in playoffs but this seems – the magnitude for what this is growing into, it’s got a chance to be pretty special for the eight (men’s and women’s) teams that get here.”
That’s all well and good but just don’t get the Penn coach all caught up in the numbers concerning his squad.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t look into the standings but that does not factor into what we do,” McLaughlin said. “That’s not the way we coach them. We’ll add them up at the end.
“We’re aware of what’s going on. But that doesn’t change our motivation or level of thinking.”
That operation involves getting Penn ready for a fine tuned machine to purr over the haul ahead and he believes they succeeded making adjustments from last weekend’s setback to Yale.
“We had a good week. We really made some steps on the offensive end tonight,” McLaughlin said after tucking a season sweep of Columbia away to go with the 2-0 job completed Friday on Cornell.
“Defensively, we were really working together and Sydney (Stipanovich) was really good working the middle this weekend. A great league. To get out of here with two wins. Really proud of the group.”
The night began on a bittersweet note with the farewell to the senior trio of Kasey Chambers, Jackie Falconer and Stipanovich, the new Ivy career shot-blocking leader, who was the final addition to get Penn to its first Ivy title under McLaughlin three seasons ago and became a mainstay of making the Quakers a constant threat to foes outside the league.
The major damage against Columbia was delivered by junior Michelle Nwokedi, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds to go with a pair of assists, two steals and and a blocked shot. Chambers had 11 points, and Anna Ross scored 11 points.
Nwokedi, Ross and Chambers each fired two of the nine three-pointers connected by the Quakers.
Camille Zimmerman was again unstoppable for Columbia, scoring 31 points, while Tori Oliver scored 11.
Looking ahead to the finish and the tournament leading to a return to the NCAA for the third time in four years, McLaughlin said, “There’s growth to be had and I think they know that. We can get better before we do this again in the playoffs.
“That’s what I’m impressed with. They want to get better. There’s growth to be had. We haven’t hit our ceiling as a group. There’s no doubt we want to win this regular season outright. It’s important to them.
“The goals were to get to the playoffs. To win the league outright if possible. Their composure is really there. The will to win. They understanding how to win. It’s pretty strong in this group. It’s led by the seniors, Kasey’s a leader and Sydney’s a winner. And Anna Ross and Michelle Nwokedi have won a lot of games now. They know how to win.
“We’re going to enjoy this right now. Ten out of 11 in our league. One of the top eight conferences in the country, RPI. It’s pretty special.”
Cornell 55, Princeton 44 – The visiting Big Red knowing it could move into sole possession for fourth place and the last available berth in the Ivy tourney came motivated, though more work remains next weekend to assure the Big Red a place at the Palestra.
Despite the setback, the Tigers already claimed one of the berths Friday night but the loss put them two games behind Penn with three remaining so it will take help to finish first in the standings.
Cornell got stronger at the finish launching a 6-0 run at the outset in the fourth period in which it would outscore the Tigers 17-6 across the final 10 minutes.
Princeton got within three and it looked like perhaps the Tigers might pull out another narrow win as they had to beat Harvard and Yale in Jadwin, but Megan LeDuc gave the Big Red added comfort with a 3-pointer that sent them on to a 49-41 lead before hitting six free throws to emerge with the victory.
"We didn’t do schematically anything differently,” Cornell coach Dayna Smith said of the final stanza. “The biggest difference was forcing them into tough shots and when they didn’t finish we got some big rebounds.”
Nicholle Astin had 14 points for Cornell, Nia Marshall scored 12 and had 13 rebounds, LeDuc scored 11, and Kerri Morgan scored 11.
Marshall also set a program record for her school, becoming the career scorer when she passed the 1,650 from Karen Walker in 1991.
Leslie Robinson scored 12 for Princeton, while Vanessa Smith scored 10, and freshman Bella Alarie had nine points and eight rebounds while her 45th block of the season, which came in the second period, set a new standard for incoming freshmen.
As mentioned, Princeton heads to Harvard, Friday, and then to Dartmouth the next night before returning and ending the regular season at Penn, March 7.
The path to the Palestra for Cornell is in its own hands, hosting Yale, Friday night at 6 p.m. in Newman Arena, and Brown, Saturday at 5 p.m.
Harvard 66, Brown 63 – The Crimson taking a road win clinched the third available berth for the league playoffs and put the host Bears in a difficult spot to also get to the Palestra.
Katie Benzan had a career-high 24 points, while Destiny Nunley had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and Jeannie Boehm had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
A Kirby Porter steal with less than a minute enabled the Crimson to go ahead, which occurred when Benzan scored on a jump shot with 42 seconds left in regulation to give Harvard the lead.
Brown, after an exchange of treys, went for the lead but Bohem blocked Janie White’s three-point attempt and Porter grabbed the rebound to seal the win.
Erika Steeves scored 21 points for the Bears and Janie White had nine rebounds.
Harvard returns home to finish next weekend in Lavietes Pavilion hosting Princeton Friday night at 7 p.m. and Penn Saturday at 6.
It’s moot whether Harvard finishes second or third since the Crimson would meet Princeton in the same semifinal game in the tournament.
Brown heads to Cornell and Columbia needing to win both to have a chance to make the fourth spot.
Yale 58, Dartmouth 44 – The Bulldogs won their third straight, completing a sweep, but failed to gain ground on Cornell, which upset Princeton, but did move into a tie with Brown for fifth off the Bears’ loss to Harvard.
Yale opened with a 16-5 run and held on the rest of the way.
Meghan McIntyre had 12 points for the Bulldogs and Jen Berkowitz scored 11.
“To come back after an emotional, hard fought win last night, I was proud of the way we came out and threw the first punch tonight,” Yale coach Allison Guth said.
Next weekend, Yale must sweep their way in, beating Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., Friday night, and then win at Columbia Saturday.
Kate Letkewicz had 27 for Dartmouth.
Team. W. L. W. L. G.B. GR
*Penn 17-7 10-1. -- 3
*Pctn. 14-10. 8-3. 2.0 3
*Hrvd. 20-5 8-4 2.5 2
Crnll 15-10 6-6 4.5 2
Brwn 14-11 5-7 5.5 2
Yale 14-11 5-7 5.5 2
x-Colm 13-12 3-9 7.5 2
x-Dtmth 7-18 2-10 8.5 2
(Ivy Records Only)
Team W-L G.B. GR
Crnell 6-6 – 2
Brwn 5-7 1.0 2
Yale 5-7 1.0 2
Friday, Mar. 3
*Penn at Dartmouth, 7 p.m.
*Princeton at *Harvard, 7 p.m.
Yale at Cornell, 6 p.m.
Brown at Columbia, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Mar. 4
*Penn at *Harvard, 6 p.m.
*Princeton at Dartmouth, 6 p.m.
Yale at Columbia, 6 p.m.
Brown at Cornell, 5 p.m.
Tuesday, Mar. 7
*Princeton at *Penn, 7 p.m.
What Teams Must Do To Finish
Penn: To finish first controls its destiny. The Quakers can clinch as early as Friday beating Dartmouth if Harvard beats Princeton or can clinch Saturday by sweeping both games ahead of the Princeton visit. If Penn was swept and Princeton sweeps New England then it becomes head-to-head March 7 at the Palestra as it was in Princeton two of the last three seasons.
Princeton: To finish first, the Tigers need Penn to lose its last three and Princeton win its last three, including the head-to-head with the Quakers at the Palestra on March 7.
Harvard: To finish first, the Crimson must sweep Penn and Princeton and need to find tiebreak because of the schedule they couldn’t win outright.
Cornell: Will need to check with league on tie breaks cause that may have to happen for somebody. But initially, in the Big Red’s destiny. if they sweep Yale and Brown, they are fourth. On Friday, if they beat Yale and Columbia beats Brown.
Brown: Must sweep Cornell and Columbia and Yale beats Cornell and loses to Columbia.
Yale: Must sweep Cornell and Columbia and Brown beats Cornell and loses to Columbia.