Women’s basketball falls to Penn and undefeated Princeton

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/23/15 6:10pm

Seeking to build on a victory that snapped a month-long losing streak one week ago, the Dartmouth women’s basketball team found itself in the toughest portion of its Ivy League schedule — travelling to play the two top-ranked teams in its conference. After losing to the No. 14 Princeton University Tigers by 70-31, and falling to the Pennsylvania University Quakers 63-46, the team will now regroup with an eye on finishing the last four games of the season on a strong note.

Much like Princeton’s (25-0, 9-0 Ivy) other opponents this season, the Big Green (11-13, 2-8 Ivy) were simply overwhelmed on Friday night in New Jersey. The result stood in stark contrast to the two teams’ meeting three weeks back, when despite losing by 18, Dartmouth played an impressive game and managed to keep up with the Tigers for most of the contest. This time around, however, the team suffered its worst defeat all year.

Yet last Friday’s contest didn’t begin all that badly for the Big Green. Rather, for almost half of the first period, the team was within single digits of Princeton. Lakin Roland ’16 opened the scoring with a three-point dagger and added a layup soon after, as Dartmouth held a lead for nearly four minutes after tipoff.

Any initial progress, though, soon disintegrated at the hands of the Tiger’s offense, as well as the team’s own unfortunate shooting. On three separate occasions during the first 20 minutes of play, the Tigers went on runs of nine, seven, and eight points without a scoring response from Dartmouth.

Such a severe dearth for offense in the first half could be attributed to several factors, including the fact that Roland’s assertive play quickly trailed off. After her strong start, the junior followed by going 0-8 from the field and committed two fouls and two turnovers. She would manage just four more points for the night after her early five-point outburst, uncharacteristically struggling from the free throw line — 4-8 for the fifth-best Ivy League free throw shooter — and with shooting, going 2-11 on field goals.

As a team, Dartmouth shot a woeful 5-29 — 17.2 percent — and no player apart from Roland made more than two shots in the first half. The team’s leading scorer, Fanni Szabo ’17, struggled finding her touch, posting a 1-8 field goal performance in the first half. While defensive effort appeared resolute at times — holding Princeton scoreless for a stretch of almost five minutes — offensive dysfunction precluded any chances of staying close with one of the best squads in the country. The Big Green fell into a 30-12 hole by the halftime break.

If the game wasn’t already decided, the Tigers quickly dispelled any remaining doubt early into the second half, outscoring Dartmouth 12-0 in the first three minutes. The Big Green manufactured opportunities on offense in the second period, but the team — leading the Ivy League in free throw percentage at 78.9 percent — continued its troubles at the charity stripe, converting only 4-9 free throws in the second half and ultimately 5-11 for the game.

The one promising sign for Dartmouth on Friday emerged in the latter stages of the game. After head coach Belle Koclanes took out her top two scorers Szabo and Roland with 11 minutes left, freshmen reserves Andi Norman ’18 and Emily Slagle ’18 caught fire. Between 8:42 and 3:56, Norman and Slagle knocked down three and two three-point shots, respectively. Sending their teammates on the bench into a frenzy, the duo keyed a 15-4 run for the Big Green to make the score 62-31. The surges only made a dent in the deficit, but revealed potential players who could provide a shooting boost off the bench and help better space the floor in the near future.

“[Norman] and Slagle did some nice things,” Koclanes said. “That was a major positive with that stretch in the second half, and it was with our freshmen on the floor. That was also against Princeton’s bench, so that’s something you have to understand. Time will tell [if they gain a larger offensive role]… But, there’s definitely a role for [them], [they’re] part of our vision, that’s why [they’re] here.”

The final score line settled at 70-31 in favor of Princeton, who posted a 51.7 field goal percentage and out-rebounded Dartmouth 53-21. On the other end of the spectrum, the Big Green shot a lowly 18.9 percent from the field, and none of its players reached double digits.

“The future looks bright, and we’re moving in the right direction,” Koclanes said. “Even if you look at the scoreboard and you don’t see that, we see it. This game doesn’t tell the [whole] story for us, it’s part of the story of our building process.”

The following day, the team traveled westward to face the Penn Quakers (16-7, 7-2 Ivy) in Philadelphia. Although a much better performance and closer game, the Big Green left with a loss on its record and enmeshed in yet another losing skid.

Similar to the previous night’s contest, Dartmouth started with excellent play and remained tight with its opponent for much of the first half. Tia Dawson ’15 and Toskovic opened the game by connecting on two midrange jumpers, and after Szabo matched a Quaker three-ball with one of her own, the Big Green maintained a 13-12 lead six minutes in.

Penn, however, soon found its composure and shooting touch. The Quakers commenced a 14-2 run up until the 6:08 mark to grab a 26-15 lead, aided in large part by Dartmouth’s offensive disarray on the other end. Over an 11-minute span since last possessing a lead, the Big Green committed six turnovers. Most of the mishaps resulted from sloppy ball movement and inbound passes. Not only did the mistakes stall any offensive progress and crucially wasted opportunities to stay closer in the game, but Penn also scored 10 points on possessions immediately following the turnovers.

While the Quakers again relied on their strength in the post — netting 14 points in the paint — to gain a 35-27 lead at the midway point, three-point shooting proved even more critical. Penn sank five three-pointers in the first half, adding another four in the second.

Dartmouth still had a strong showing in the first 20 minutes of play and cut its deficit to single digits late in the half. After the Big Green was overpowered in the paint during the teams’ last meeting, Koclanes elected to start the game with much more size in her lineup. As a result, the defense solidified on both the perimeter and near the basket, paving the way to a plus-five rebounding margin in the first half.

“I think it helped a lot,” Dawson said about the change in the starting unit. “We went to a 2-3 zone on defense because we knew their post players were really good scorers. So we wanted to clog the paint, and try to [make them] shoot outside. So it really helped us.”

The next half could not have begun any better for the Big Green. Second-chance baskets by Dawson and Szabo helped build on a strong finish to the prior half, in total creating an 11-1 stretch to cut Penn’s lead to 35-31 and forcing a timeout. Within a minute, though, the Quakers fired back with two three-pointers, which jump-started a 15-4 run of their own. Penn would not look back after this, sustaining a double-digit advantage throughout the rest of the game.

Any chances at a second-half comeback quickly dwindled for Dartmouth. Following a strong shooting display in the first period, the Big Green lost its touch in the next 20 minutes, its field goal percentage dropping off from 40 percent to 27.6. Excluding the first and last two minutes of the second half, the team could only post nine points, suffering greatly from turnovers and offensive stagnancy. Top scorer Szabo, while collecting 14 points, shot well below her usual mark for a second consecutive night, with a 6-21 performance from the field.

The team still has a few positive takeaways from the defeat. In a consistent effort from start to finish, Dartmouth notably out-rebounded Penn 40-27, 19 of which were offensive boards. The dominant performance marked a vast improvement from the last time the two teams played three weeks ago, when the Quakers had a 44-28 advantage in this area.

“We out-rebounded Penn today, that was really big for us,” Koclanes said. “It’s a big deal because they’re a very strong, physical team. They have size, and they’re known for their rebounding and physicality, so we’re happy with that.”

Dawson, who has seen a sharp increase in her minutes played over the last few games, played a vital role in this outcome. The senior center notched her first double-double of the season with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, showing once again how vital her health and presence are to the Big Green’s success on both ends of the floor.

“Something we talked about in the locker room was that we battled for 40 minutes, regardless of what the scored was at the end,” Toskovic said. “That’s something we’ve been working on, not getting into these lulls in the game, so I think our team stayed together for the whole 40 minutes, and I’m really proud of that.”

The Big Green women will return to Leede Arena next weekend to host Columbia and Cornell Universities on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m., respectively.