Women’s basketball drops to 1-3 in Ivy play

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/1/15 6:10pm

After defeating Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to kick off Ivy League play on Jan. 10, the Dartmouth women’s basketball team suffered three consecutive home losses to Ivy League opponents, seeing its strongest start to a season in nine years come to a sour end. After suffering their first loss to Harvard in a rematch on Jan. 24, the Big Green will now look to regroup after losses to the University of Pennsylvania, 55-39, and Princeton University, 83-65.

While the margins of defeat were nearly identical, Dartmouth’s performance in the two games was far from so.

Whether it was the aftershock of a heartbreaking loss to Harvard or the result of a transition into a more rigorous Ivy League slate, the Big Green simply looked unrecognizable on Friday against Penn, the reigning Ivy League champions.

A woeful shooting performance — 26.8 percent from the field, the worst mark all season — impaired Dartmouth’s chances from start to finish in the demoralizing loss.

Fanni Szabo ’17 opened the scoring with a short jumper 20 seconds into the game, but the game continued to go downhill from there for the Big Green. Over the next two minutes, Penn went on a 6-0 run, taking a very methodical approach and showing early signs of its dominance near the basket that would prove pivotal. After the visitor’s sixth point, neither teams scored for the next four minutes, a period which saw Dartmouth commit five turnovers and miss five shots.

The Big Green managed to keep pace with Penn well into the first half, tying the game at eight with 11:33 remaining. After building an initial advantage, the Quakers curiously left the method by which they built their lead — eating up the shot clock and ferociously pounding the low block — and instead resorted to shooting three-pointers, missing five attempts and allowing Dartmouth to creep back into the game.

At the 11th minute, however, Penn would regain momentum, jump-starting a 12-2 run over the next six minutes that would eventually feed into a 24-14 advantage at halftime. Penn’s sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich, the team’s top scorer for the night, enforced her will near the rim effectively, notching six of her eight first-half points in the paint and recording three blocks.

As or Dartmouth, evidence of the prototypical “off night” had become very clear. The team shot a dreadful 21.4 percent for field goals at the half, making only six goals in an attempted 28 and failing to convert any of its seven three-point attempts, many of which came on open looks. Moreover, the Big Green posted its lowest first-half point total all season with only 14, well below its 28.3 first half average.

“We had great looks [and] a lot of shots, they just didn’t go into the basket,” head coach Belle Koclanes said about her team’s shooting troubles. “So that’s the next lesson you learn, what kind of team are we going to be when the ball’s not going into the basket, because that’s only one side of the floor. And there’s so much more in the game that we have to continue to improve on.”

The second half would further tilt the contest in the Quakers’ favor. Lakin Roland ’16 — whose struggles from the Jan. 24 matchup against Harvard persisted in a 0-for-6 effort from the field in the first half against Penn — netted her first points of the game on two foul shots just over two minutes into the second half, trimming the team’s deficit to 27-18. Seconds after her first points of the game, a leg injury sidelined the junior for the next eight minutes, and as a result, Roland suffered another disappointing outing, going 2-for-11 on the night.

Penn maintained control of play over the course of the second half. With 5:30 left in the game, Penn senior Kathleen Roche hit a layup to extend Penn’s lead to 51-28, its largest of the night. Penn didn’t hit a field goal for the rest of the game, but still won by a comfortable margin.

The Big Green made a push toward the end of the game, but the victory was long decided by then. Szabo led Dartmouth with 14 points on the night, but she — along with her teammates — posted an uncharacteristically poor shooting performance for most of the contest. In addition to shooting much worse than its 38 percentage from the field on the season, the team failed to develop three-pointing shooting accuracy, making a paltry 16.7 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, again well below its 31.4 percent average for three-pointers over the rest of the season.

Dartmouth’s coach pointed to an inability to complete offensive plays as a source for the team’s struggles rather than a lack of offensive production.

“I was actually really happy with our ball movement,” Coach Koclanes said. “We got really good looks. We got post touches, short corner touches, our shooters got looks when they wanted them. So it wasn’t a lack of creativity at all, it was just the ball not going into the basket. We were looking for a spark offensively and we just didn’t find it.”

A 44-28 total rebounding edge further demonstrated Penn’s post area control. The Quaker’s only average a +3.4 margin on the glass, while Dartmouth averages 36.8 total rebounds per game.

“From a rebounding standpoint, they outworked us,” Coach Koclanes said. “Rebounding has been a major emphasis for us all season long. We need to improve defensive and offensive rebounding, we don’t get many second chance opportunities.”

Less than 24 hours later, the Big Green faced the toughest team on its schedule in the Princeton Tigers, ranked 19th in the country in the Associated Press Top 25 and one of the last two teams with an undefeated record alongside South Carolina University. The night brought yet another defeat, but the final count on the scoreboard belied Dartmouth’s play.

One can’t help but think what a difference one day can make.

In a striking contrast from the night before, Dartmouth came out of the gates with renewed energy on offense, defense and in transition. After a few shot attempts barely rattled out of the rim, the Big Green settled in nicely with excellent ball movement — always key in any and all offensive success — that helped the shots fall much more easily. Szabo in particular had a blazing start, scoring eight points in the first six minutes, helping her team stay within two points of Princeton.

"[Saturday night] was better, much more enthusiasm, much more energy across the board,” Coach Koclanes said about her squad’s strong start. “And that’s something the starters are really embracing, that it’s their responsibility.”

Despite the strong start for the Big Green, Princeton began to inflict more damage on the other end of the court. Through the Tigers average 7.16 converted three point shots per game, Princeton relied much more heavily on drives towards the basket for their offense against Dartmouth. The visitors held a 52-6 points in the paint edge over Dartmouth on the night, much of which resulted from effective passing that led to penetrations into the post area followed by easy lay-ins. This offensive theme persisted all night, largely unimpeded by the Big Green’s defensive efforts.

The Tigers attained their largest lead of the half at the 4:58 mark, leading 37-23. Dartmouth would not relent, and outscored its opponent 12-7 in the remaining time, highlighted by Tia Dawson’s ’15 buzzer-beater at the end to cut the deficit to single digits.

After the previous evening’s debacle of a shooting display, Szabo noted that in past back-to-back games “if our shots were not falling in the first game, then they were falling in the second game.”

The Big Green shot 45.5 percent from the field in the first half, showing a resiliency and an ability to bounce back from the poor performance of the prior night. Szabo herself had a very efficient first period, composed of a 4-6 field goal clip and 10 total points.

As for the away team, Princeton would ride its high conversion on shots near the basket to a 69.2 percent first half mark from the field. Forward Annie Tarakchian paved the way both in the low block and beyond the arc, posting 12 points. A -3 turnover margin was the only blemish on a pinpoint shooting performance.

The second half started poorly for Dartmouth, as Princeton torched the Big Green with a 4-10 run in the first three minutes. Junior Alex Wheatley netted eight of Princeton’s points on the run in a dazzling array of layups and foul shots, earned by powerful moves toward the basket.

In the first five minutes of the new period, Daisy Jordan ’16 converted two jumpers, which complemented her strong performance in the post consisting of 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting for the night.

“I just felt confident, and I knew that once we went on runs and get a couple of shots up, it really fires us up,” Jordan said.

Coach Koclanes also spoke to her center’s determination and improvement near the rim on Saturday.“Daisy and I had an awesome conversation after the Harvard game last week,” Koclanes said. “She came into my office and told me [she] wanted to be the go-to post player for this team, for everyone. She is so motivated, she continues to raise her level in practice every day, which is where it starts. I had a feeling she was going to have a great night [Saturday].”

Princeton grabbed its largest lead of the game, 65-45, with 12:30 left to play in the second half. Princeton’s swift drives attacking the rim were essential in extending the team’s lead.

Roland, who was held to six points on the night, hit two free throws eight minutes into the second half for her first points of the night, marking the second consecutive night Dartmouth’s second leading scorer was held scoreless until the second half.

"It happens with players,” Coach Koclanes noted about Roland’s slump. “They go through a lot with confidence and strength. Lakin contributes so much to this basketball team in so many ways, and we’re going to have a great week of practice with her, I know it.”

While Dartmouth began to play a lot sharper as the half progressed and generated plenty of defensive stops, Princeton’s offense started to collect more offensive rebounds that would be absolutely crushing for the home team on its comeback trail. The Tigers snatched 10 offensive boards in the second half, compensating for the slight cooldown of its hot shooting to 51.9 percent.

The game concluded as an 83-65 loss for the Big Green. Szabo led all scorers on the floor with 18 points on 6-17 shooting. Guard Amber Mixon ’18 played well on both ends of the court, adding nine points and showing how offensively constructive she can be when given the opportunity.

Princeton followed all-around fantastic play en route to victory, as the team shot 60.4 percent from the field for the game and produced a dramatic overall rebound advantage of 41-19 over Dartmouth. Princeton starters Tarakchian, Wheatley and Blake Dietrick combined for 47 of the team’s 85 total points.

Dartmouth women’s basketball returns to Leede Arena with games against Yale and Brown Universities on Friday, Feb. 6 and Saturday, Feb. 7, respectively.