Brown punches last ticket to women’s tourney

After Brown’s victory at Dartmouth on February 12, the Bears were in fourth place with a 5-3 record and a two-game lead on fifth-place Cornell.  With four games in a row at home, things looked positive for Brown to hold onto fourth and claim a spot in the Ivy League Tournament.

Two weeks later, Brown found itself in the midst of a four-game losing streak, one game behind the Red with two game left in the regular season.  Just as problematic was the fact that Yale got on a three-game winning streak and was tied with Brown at 5-7.  While a conference tie with Cornell would favor the Bears due to a season sweep, a tie with Yale would put the Bulldogs through based on its victory against first-place Penn.

On Friday evening, Brown ended its losing streak in a big way, beating Columbia 76-59 on Friday night.  Fortunately for the Bears, Cornell ended Yale’s winning streak with a 59-49 victory.  The Brown women found themselves on the road to Ithaca alone in fifth place, one game behind Cornell with a winner-take-all game scheduled for Saturday night.

The game set itself up as a classic game of offense versus defense and youth versus experience.  Brown was first in points scored (70.8 points per game), first in made three-pointers (7.3) and last in points allowed (72.8 points per game).  Cornell gave up 59.5 points per game in league play, allowing its opponents 36.0 percent shooting from three and 40.5 percent from two.  The Red were led by five seniors, Nia Marshall, Megan LeDuc, Nicholle Aston, Kerri Moran and Taylor DePalma, who have been a part of a school record 58 career wins.  Brown, however, started four sophomores (Shayna Mehta, Taylor Will, Erika Steeves, Mary Butler) and a first-year (Justine Gaziano).

In the first meeting between the two teams on February 3, Brown claimed a 72-67 win at the Pizzitola Sports Center on the strength of 47 percent overall shooting, 46 percent from three, 11 made threes and 27 points from Gaziano.  Despite having more rebounds (42-39), made free throws (14-7), forced turnovers (18-10) and bench points (27-14), Cornell could not make up for its limited three-pointers (five) and shooting percentages (37 percent).

In Saturday’s contest, Cornell was able to push the ball in transition and get a number of layups to take a 12-5 lead with five minutes to go in the first quarter.  The Bears then tightened their defense, forcing a 16-16 tie at the end of the first stanza.  Cornell took a 20-16 lead with 8:41 left in the third quarter, before they were held by scoreless for the next 8:15 and went into the locker room down 27-23.  After the Red scored the first two points of the third quarter, Brown dominated Cornell 19-5 to take a 46-30 into the fourth quarter.  With 1:56 left in the game, the Bears had extended its lead to 30 and ended up securing the No. 4 seed with a 67-46 victory.

As in the teams’ first meeting, Cornell dominated on the boards with a 41-32 overall advantage and a 22-5 offensive edge.  Brown’s defense neutralized the Red by forcing them into another night of poor shooting, hitting 28 percent from the field and 9 percent (1-for-11) from three.  On offense, the Bears were able hit 52 percent from the field, including 62 percent (8-for-13) from beyond the arc.

The Bears were led by Shayna Mehta, who scored 28 points.  Last year’s Rookie of the Year, shot 11-for-16, including 4 of 5 three-pointers.  First-year guard Justine Gaziano, one of the premier rookies in the Ivies, added 13 points.  For Cornell, Nia Marshall, the school’s all-time leading scorer, put in 13 points and seven rebounds, while Nicholle Aston added six points and 11 rebounds.

Next up for Brown is a date at the Palestra against Penn.  In the season series, the Quakers defeated Brown 86-60 in Philadelphia on January 14.  The return match was much closer, with the young Bears pushing the Ivy champs to the limit in a 71-68 loss on February 17.

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