Women’s Ivy Tournament teams continue onward in postseason

For the second consecutive year, all four participants in the women’s Ivy Tournament have earned postseason bids.  Following top seeded Princeton’s championship victory over second place Penn early Sunday evening, the Tigers clinched the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and Penn claimed the conference’s automatic qualifying spot in the Women’s NIT.  On Monday night, Harvard received an at-large bid to the WNIT and Yale was selected for the Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI).

The Tigers were chosen as the No. 12 seed in the Kansas City regional, where they will face No. 5 Maryland in Raleigh on Friday at noon on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3.  For Princeton, this is their ninth straight postseason appearance and seventh trip to the Big Dance.  The Quakers will be going up against Albany at the Palestra on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. on the Ivy League Network.  Penn is competing in its sixth straight postseason tournament and its second trip to the WNIT.  The Crimson will travel to the Bronx on Friday night at 7:00 pm to take on Fordham on the A-10 Network, as they make their 14th overall postseason tournament, eighth all-time WNIT showing and sixth WNIT appearance in the last seven seasons.  The Bulldogs will visit Northeastern on Thursday night at 7:00 pm on Northeastern’s NUxtreme.  This is the team’s first postseason play under third-year head coach Allison Guth, and the first of any kind since a 2011 WNIT bid.

Here is a short primer on the Ivy representatives’ opponents for this week’s action:

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The “Penn”dulum swings, and the Palestra does too: Penn defeats Harvard to clinch first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years

Penn basketball is back to the Big Dance.

The Red & Blue ended an 11-year absence from the NCAA Tournament by coming out on top in a see-saw Ivy League Tournament final at the Palestra Sunday, besting No. 1 Harvard, 68-65.

No. 2 Penn ended the game on a 13-7 run in the final 4:49, the decisive run in a game full of ups and downs for both teams. taking a 66-60 lead into the final minute before hanging on with two final Ryan Betley free throws with 11 seconds left that upped Penn’s lead to the final score. Two would-be game-tying three-point attempts from Justin Bassey and Christian Juzang missed the mark, and a partisan Penn crowd stormed the Palestra floor:

 

Penn had held a 48-35 lead with 14:06 to play and maintained a double-digit lead with under eight minutes left, but Bassey and Juzang willed Harvard back from the foul line and the three-point line, with Chris Lewis converting inside after a 3-for-10 shooting start.

Poor shooting helped put the Quakers in a 32-21 hole with just under three minutes to go in the first half.

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Penn holds off Harvard, 55-52, to advance to Ivy League Tournament final

To paraphrase Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, “This is the close game Ivy basketball fans deserve, but not the one it needs right now.”

After three games, a thirty minute delay for a broken shot clock, and eight hours of blowout playoff action, the Penn and Harvard women gave the Ivy hoops faithful a game that went down to the wire with the Quakers pulling out the 57-52 victory.  While both offenses struggled throughout the night, the defensive effort was elite. The first quarter ended in a 8-8 tie with the Crimson shooting 16 percent and the Quakers hitting 13 percent of its attempts. The teams improved slightly in the second quarter with Harvard moving up to 33 percent and Penn shooting 29 percent.  With both teams hitting the same number of two and threes in the first half, the Quakers went into the locker room up 23-18 on the strength of its 5 point advantage at the free throw line.

In the third quarter, Penn shot 50 percent, but came up empty from three.  Harvard, meanwhile, only shot 25 percent, but Katie Benzan hit 3 three pointers from NBA range and the team had a four point advantage from the charity stripe to cut the Penn lead to 37-35 with 10 minutes to go.  The Red & Blue put more defensive pressure on Benzan and the offense finally hit shots, including threes from Ashley Russell and Phoebe Sterba, to open up a 7 point lead with 4:37 left in regulation. After the Crimson got the game to 51-48, Penn senior guard Anna Ross hit a huge three with 91 seconds remaining.  Benzan then missed three attempts from long range to end any hope Harvard had of forcing the game into overtime.

For the night, Ross was the only double digit scorer for Penn with 15 points, 9 in the decisive fourth quarter.  Senior forward Michelle Nwokedi also had a big night with 8 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks and junior forward Princess Aghayere came off the bench to give the team 7 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 19 minutes of action.  Benzan led all scorers with 6 three pointers and 20 points. Senior forward Taylor Rooks added 10 points and 12 rebounds (6 offensive), while sophomore forward Jeannie Boehm had 8 points, 14 boards and 3 blocks.

Penn coach Mike McLaughlin’s fourth quarter move to take Ross off of Benzan and replace her with Russell proved to be a decisive defensive decision.  Russell got in Benzan’s face and forced one of nation’s leading three point shooters (46.2 percent overall and 50.0 percent in league play) into 1-7 shooting in the fourth quarter.  Offensively, his team’s leadership came through with Ross hitting two key three pointers after going 0-4 from beyond the arc and fellow senior Beth Brzozowski going 2-2 from the line to make it a two possession game with eight seconds remaining.

For Harvard, they suffer their tenth road loss of the year and their second straight first round exit as the number three seed in the conference tournament.  In the short term, their 18 overall wins, 10 Ivy victories and #51 RPI ranking should insure a postseason bid later this week. For next year, the team does graduate starters Kirby Porter and Taylor Rooks, but they have Sydney Skinner and Jadyn Bush to move into those spots, as well as a solid nucleus and a promising group of underclass athletes.  While things did not work out for the coach and her players on Saturday night, things look good for the program to extend its top three streak to 16 seasons in 2019. With the rumored move of the Ivy Tournament away from the Palestra, a venue where the team has gone 0-8 since the winter of 2012, the third time may ultimately prove to be the charm for the Crimson.

With the win, the Quakers set up a return match against top seed Princeton,  This will be the second consecutive year the historic rivals meet for the league’s automatic bid and the second time it will be played on Penn’s home court.  As the number one seed last year, there were no issues with that location. As the number two seed, many, including Princeton’s coach, feel the game should be played at Jadwin Gymnasium.  

While Penn understands its fortune at playing this game on its home court and its boisterous fans, the team knows that the Tigers have soundly beaten them twice this year, including a conference opening 70-55 defeat at the Palestra.  Adding that to the dominant performance Princeton had over Yale early Saturday night and the offensive difficulties his team had against Harvard, Coach McLaughlin knows his team has got to improve on offense to have any chance at the upset.  “We’re gonna have to find a way to find a way to play them in the 60s tomorrow. We have to get out of the 40s and 50s with them. So, I think we have to win side out-of-bounds, deflections in the scorers, all the little things that maybe can give us the chance of getting into the 60s with them.”  If they can manage to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year, the Red & Blue will look to avenge last year’s epic first-round collapse against Texas A&M.  However, they first need to get through a talented, deep, and confident Princeton team that is looking to send a message to league officials as they seek to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2016.

Ivy League Tournament semifinals – men’s recap

No. 1 Harvard 74, No. 4 Cornell 55

Harvard (18-12, 13-2 Ivy) looked pretty shaky at first, getting sped up by Cornell’s aggressive defense, committing three turnovers in the first 3:20 and sending Cornell (12-16, 6-9) into the bonus 9:14 into the game. The Crimson trailed 28-21 with less than three minutes to go in the first half, shooting 2-for-11 from long range and struggling with a patient Cornell offense firing on all cylinders.

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Harvard rolls over Cornell, 74-55, into Ivy title game

The Crimson entered the Ivy League Tournament semifinals as favorites over the fourth-seeded Big Red. This made sense. While Harvard arrived on a roll, Cornell needed a Yale overtime win against Princeton to even earn a trip to the Palestra. But after two hard-fought games in the regular season between these two teams and memories from last year’s tough Ivy Tournament semifinal lingering in Harvard’s mind, the game was far from a sure thing for either side.

Early on, both sides were jumpy and cold from the floor, especially Harvard. After the game, Tommy Amaker attributed this to nerves, but added that after a few shots went in, all that nervousness went away. He also noted the importance of Rio Haskett’s three-pointer late in the first half. In many ways, this shot, a Haskett wing three with 2:45 to play in the first half as the Crimson trailed by seven, was the turning point in the game.

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Inside Ivy Hoops – Feb. 22, 2018

In the latest episode of Inside Ivy Hoops, Brett Franklin and Jill Glessner talk with Dartmouth women’s coach Belle Koclanes and Ivy Hoops Online Harvard beat writer Robert Crawford while also previewing a crucial weekend on both the men’s and women’s sides.

On the women’s side, Jill and Brett look back on Dartmouth’s pivotal comeback overtime victory at Yale, the Bulldogs’ see-saw weekend, Brown’s subpar shot selection, the current tiebreaker situation for the No. 3 and 4 seeds and more:

On the men’s side, Brett and Jill detail the current tiebreaker situation for the No. 4 seed, Cornell’s surge to the top half of the league, Matt Morgan’s efficient offensive dominance, Penn’s “next man up” mentality, Yale’s extra passes and a tough weekend for the Bears in addition to previewing the weekend’s matchups:

Robert Crawford weighs in on Harvard filling the void left by Bryce Aiken’s absence in unexpected ways, what Justin Bassey and Chris Lewis bring to the Crimson, the emergence of Christian Juzang, Tommy Amaker’s different coaching approach recently, the Lavietes factor, the versatility of Katie Benzan and more:

Belle Koclanes details Dartmouth’s halftime conversation trailing at Yale 34-18 before completing a memorable second-half comeback, who’s stepping up following the season-ending injury of Olivia Smith, the Big Green’s response to being “tanked” amid their first Ivy back-to-back last month, the development of Kate Letkewicz and more:

Thoughts on Ivy League openers – men’s basketball

Harvard 61 vs Dartmouth 51

An ugly win is still a win. Harvard fans can take comfort in that fact after the Crimson’s home win over the Big Green, a game that was very much up for grabs until Harvard pulled away with 4-for-4 three-point shooting in a 3:54 span late in the game during which Dartmouth was held scoreless, turning a 45-45 tie into a 54-45 cushion. Harvard notched the win despite Bryce Aiken missing nearly the entire game in a brief return from injury after missing the last four games with a knee injury. Harvard committed 19 turnovers, not a particularly good sign. But the Crimson were led by a career-high 12 points from Christian Juzang and 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting from Seth Towns. Harvard entered the game as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country but lit Dartmouth up from deep, going 12-for-25 (48 percent), easily besting Dartmouth’s paltry 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) clip.

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Thoughts on Ivy League openers – women’s basketball

Princeton 70 at Penn 55

The Princeton Tigers improve to 11-3 overall and, more importantly, 1-0 in the Ivy League, as they beat the two time defending champion Penn Quakers (6-5, 0-1 Ivy) for the first time in over 1,000 days.  The Orange & Black looked as if they would run away from the Red & Blue when they opened up a 10-point lead with 3:36 left in the first half, but Penn went on a 7-0 run to go into the break down 31-28.  

In the second half, the Tigers upped the defensive effort, frustrating the Quakers time and time again as they created another 10-point lead with 8:33 left in the fourth quarter.  Unlike the first half, Princeton would not let Penn shift the game’s momentum and cruised to a 15-point victory on their rival’s home court.

Some quick thoughts:

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Harvard season preview: Slew of sophomore studs looks to lead Crimson

Last season, Harvard lost to Yale in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. The Crimson graduated Siyani Chambers and Zena Edosomwan, both of whom made indelible impacts on the program. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a successful Harvard season without Siyani Chambers. And yet, the Crimson comes into the 2017-18 season as the preseason favorite, according to the Ivy Preseason Media Poll. While the poll predicted an incredibly close race between Harvard and familiar foes Yale and Princeton, the sentiment of the voters is clear: No one expects Harvard to take a step back this year. Here are the details on how Harvard hopes to turn high expectations on paper into actual success on the court:

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