Ancient Eight thoughts – Ivy Friday women’s edition

Eight thoughts on the women’s side:

1. Dartmouth hanging in there 

Dartmouth did something it hadn’t done in a decade last night: defeat Yale at home. And the timing was pivotal as the Big Green notched its second win at the wire in the past four games courtesy of a Paula Lenart putback of a missed Isalys Quinones three-pointer with 1.3 seconds left, giving the Big Green a 56-54 victory to lift them to 4-5 in the Ivy standings – within a game of Yale with five outings to go. It was a gutsy win for the Big Green, whose savvy senior guard Cy Lippold suffered an injury versus Princeton last Saturday. Lenart and Quinones put Dartmouth over the top in a defensive battle, and Annie McKenna’s six steals helped stymie the Bulldogs. If Dartmouth can best Brown tonight and sweep Columbia and Cornell in the final weekend, it has a decent chance of tying Yale in the Ivy standings at 8-6, but the Bulldogs would still own the second tiebreaker: highest seed defeated (Yale has topped both Princeton and Harvard, while Dartmouth has beaten neither.) So the Big Green’s road slate at Penn and Princeton next weekend is a huge, if challenging, opportunity to neutralize or even claim the tiebreaker away from Yale.

2. Bulldogs beware

Yale eked out an overtime win at Princeton and got a game-winning buzzer-beater to defeat Harvard earlier in the Ivy slate, also pulling away late in a home victory over Columbia. It’s gone the other way more recently for the Bulldogs, who have now dropped two in a row by two-point margins. The silver lining for Yale at Dartmouth was the performance of first-year guard Robin Gallagher, who notched 17 points off the bench, going 5-for-5 from deep – including three triples in the final 7:18 – to be Yale’s only scorer in double figures. Roxy Barahman continued to stand out as a ball distributor but had just a 2-for-10 outing from the field against an underrated Big Green defense that guards the perimeter well. Yale ranks next to last in the Ivy League in three-point percentage this season, and if Gallagher can continue to make long-range shots here and there, that would be a huge late-season bonus for a squad whose defense is Ivy championship-caliber. That defense will keep the Bulldogs’ bottom from falling out down the stretch, but this team needs more frontcourt scoring than it’s gotten in its past two losses.

3. Harvard’s momentum is there   

Fresh off its double overtime triumph over Penn at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson stayed home to thump Brown, 98-55, in a game that doesn’t even welcome much analysis other than that this team is firing on all cylinders at the moment – especially at home as usual. Katie Benzan broke the program record for three-point field goals made in a career (262) and all five starters got into double figures.

4. Brown is getting nowhere 

The Bears’ Ivy campaign got away from them quickly after an encouraging win over Yale to open league play Jan. 18. Brown hasn’t won since, giving up north of 80 points to every successive opponent except Cornell, which shut down Brown’s veteran offensive attack at the Pizzitola Sports Center anyway. Brown’s defense is by far the Ivy’s worst and its offense the league’s most inefficient. The Bears were sans Taylor Will, who also missed last Saturday’s loss to Columbia. Shayna Mehta made her 100th career start in the blowout loss, a terrific career that has gone a little less noticed because of Brown’s relegation to the Ivy’s lower tier after crashing the Ivy League Tournament as a No. 4 seed two seasons ago. The same goes for Justine Gaziano, who scored 16 points on 8-for-17 shooting at Harvard and has been the league’s most efficient three-point shooter as a junior.

5. Princeton overcomes a scare

The Tigers seemed to have Cornell sussed out, leading 60-39 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter after having beaten the Big Red 75-46 in Ithaca three weekends prior. But the Big Red mounted a remarkable comeback via a 25-6 run in the next 9:07 that included just one three-pointer (not including an old-fashioned three-point play from Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, who outscored Princeton 14-8 herself in the final frame. Bella Alarie’s game-clinching layup to make the final score 68-64 with 11 seconds left proved again that great players aren’t always great, but are great when they have to be. Courtney Banghart was disappointed by her team’s performance even in victory. “Bella needs to be dominant,” Banghart said postgame per the Daily Princetonian. “(Gabrielle) Rush needs to make shots. Carlie (Littlefield) needs to push the pace. Our pieces need to contribute.” But that’s not always going to happen, and when teams win while not at their best, that’s typically a good sign.

6. Cornell doesn’t care

The Big Red don’t seem to care what game circumstances seem to dictate. Whether it’s holding Brown’s high-octane offense to 53 points in Providence, winning a road game at Yale on a Saturday night in which it only scored 43 points or nearly completing a comeback at a squad that blew them away earlier in the month, the Big Red are defying expectations in all the right ways as of late. Bagwell-Katalinich is one of the league’s best scorers and rebounders, anchoring a team that grinds games out and forces opponents to do the same. Cornell’s got a shot to steal one at Penn – a tall task – before hosting Yale and Brown next weekend in a back-to-back that it could sweep. The Big Red appear ready for a late run at an Ivy tourney berth that could come down to the final weekend.

7. Penn’s offense on a tear

It’s well-established at this point that Penn’s defense is one of the nation’s best, but its offense is no slouch either. Penn got five players in double figures in a 79-56 home win over Columbia, with Princess Aghayere and Phoebe Sterba showing their prowess from deep. Sterba is a three-point specialist, the perfect complement to Eleah Parker’s at-times dominant scoring inside. Ashley Russell and Kendall Grasela are terrific ball distributors, while Aghayere is one of the league’s most versatile scorers. This group has sound shot selection and crashes the offensive boards well, so it’s got the offensive wherewithal to supplement a superior defense and put this team over the top in league play.

8.  A lot of youth to bear

Columbia’s a really young team that has alternated between displaying flashes of brilliance and making mistakes. Coach Megan Griffith acknowledged postgame, per Columbia Athletics, that “some poor decisions in transition” throughout the game kept the Lions from bouncing back. This game wasn’t as close as Penn’s 23-point margin of victory indicated, but there’s a lot of promise on this roster, with Sienna Durr holding her own against a stout Penn defense with 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting in 33 minutes and the Lions limiting their turnovers (six fewer than their loss to Penn earlier this month).

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