Columbia women’s basketball storms past Cornell to capture second straight regular season Ivy League title

After needing overtime to beat Cornell and capture its first-ever Ivy League regular season championship last March, the Columbia women used a dominant second half to crush the Big Red, 82-46, and secure its second straight Ancient Eight title Saturday at Newman Arena.

The Lions (22-5, 13-1 Ivy), winners of 10 straight for the second time this season and 20 of their last 21, now head home to Morningside Heights, where they will host Ivy Madness on March 15-17.

“This was a really important moment for us, not just to win this game, but to put an exclamation point on our regular conference season and head into the Ivy League Tournament with some confidence,” Columbia coach Megan Griffith told ESPN+ immediately following the game.

Cornell (7-19, 1-13), meanwhile, completed its season with an eight-game losing streak and ended up tied for seventh in league play. 

With Columbia up only two, 20-18, 13 minutes into the game, the Lions went on a 13-4 over the next five minutes to create some breathing room and eventually went into the locker room up nine, 37-28.

The eighth-year head coach jokingly told ESPN+ that she gave the team an inspirational pep talk at halftime, but whatever was discussed in the locker room proved to be the spark Columbia needed.

Junior guard Cecelia Collins and senior guard Abbey Hsu scored a combined 10 points over the opening four-plus minutes of the second half and stretched the Lions lead to 15, 47-32.

An 11-4 run to close out the third quarter upped Columbia’s advantage to 22, 58-36, ensuring there would be no drama like last year’s 69-64 overtime win at Levien Gymnasium.

Over the final 20 minutes, the Lions outscored the Big Red by 27 points (45-18), shooting 65% from two (11-for-17) and 38% from three (5-for-13), while limiting its travel partner to 32% from inside the arc (7-for-22) and 0-for-5 from downtown.

Looking at the entirety of the afternoon, Columbia not only scored 36 more points, but the Lions grabbed 34 more rebounds (54-20), netted 24 more points in the paint (46-22), and 15 more second chance points (21-6).

Sophomore guard Kitty Henderson led the way for the champions with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Hsu, one of the leading contenders for Ivy League Player of the Year, only shot 31%, but still managed to total 13 points.

Collins, who transferred from Bucknell and completed her first year in the Ivy League, finished with 14 points, four assists and three rebounds.

The Lions also got a big lift from first-year guard Riley Weiss, who came off the bench to hit three triples and score 17 points.

While Columbia has gone from the depths of the Ancient Eight to the top through Griffith’s building efforts, the opposite is true for Dayna Smith’s Cornell program.

The Big Red were tied for fourth place in 2017 and 2019, but the team has gone 11-45 in league play with one sixth-place showing and three seventh-place results over the last four competitive seasons.

According to Her Hoops Stats, out of 360 Division I teams, this year’s Cornell squad was No. 356 in three-point rate, No. 349 in three-point shooting, No. 311 in two-point shooting and No. 306 in offensive rating.

On the defensive side, where the Big Red has always hung their hats, the team finished No. 250 in the country.

Cornell does have potential with sophomore forward Emily Pape (10 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and a solid first-year class, led by guard/forward Rachel Kaus (8.2 ppg), but the Ivy League is one of the nation’s top conferences and only getting stronger across the board.

Based on the results from this season, as well as the last several, this looks to be a serious offseason for Smith, who last won an Ivy title in 2008 and has been in charge at Cornell for the last 22 seasons, and second-year athletic director Nicki Moore.

For Columbia, however, it is on to the Ivy League Tournament and the pursuit of the program’s first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Lions, which finished the regular season tied with Princeton for the title, are slated to play No. 3 Harvard since updated NCAA results from games played through Saturday show the Tigers 20 points stronger (33 vs 53).

No. 2 Columbia is scheduled to square off with No. 3 Harvard Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Levien, where No. 1 Princeton will face No. 4 Penn three hours earlier.

Columbia, challenged by the Big Red in last year’s regular season final game and tripped up in a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Crimson in the tournament semifinals, was reportedly the last team left out of the NCAA field.

That team rebounded with a run to the WNIT final, and this year’s squad, which had to replace seven graduating seniors, is peaking at the right time on its quest to make school history.

“I thought at the beginning of this year, pre-first workout practice, when we put the pieces together for this team, I thought we would be the best Columbia team that we ever had,” Griffith told Ivy Hoops Online during her weekly media session on Thursday. “Right now, do I think we’re the best Columbia team we ever had? I don’t think we are yet, but I think we’re getting there.”

2 thoughts on “Columbia women’s basketball storms past Cornell to capture second straight regular season Ivy League title”

  1. Nice recap, Rob. My sense is that Columbia enters the Ivy League Tournament as the favorite, not just because of the home court advantage, but also because I think this team has more momentum than any of the other teams as well as the most to play for.

  2. Thanks, Steve! I feel the same way about your review.

    I agree with you about Columbia having the momentum heading into the tournament. One of the big things about this program is the team’s ability to learn lessons from adversity. While last year’s team tightened up just a bit in game #2 vs Princeton, the Senior Day finale and the Ivy semifinal to cost them a spot in the final and an NCAA bid, this year’s team has done a much better job at dealing with these late season big moments.

    I don’t expect Princeton to have problems with Penn and the Tigers will once again make it into Saturday’s final. While Harvard will be a tough opponent, I expect the Lions to be there on Saturday night and we can all look forward to an epic final.

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