Women’s basketball splits road pair for .500 season record
The final weekend of games for the women’s basketball team was fitting for the season, representing the up-and-down nature of gameplay the team has seen in the last few months. Having endured winning streaks of four and five games and losing skids of four and six, the Big Green dismantled Brown University 71-53 this past Friday only to receive a drubbing itself, 53-28 against Yale University 24 hours later. Nevertheless, the 2014-15 season still featured marked progress from one year ago. The team’s 14-14 overall record stands in stark contrast to last year’s 5-23 record, pointing to a program on the rise.
Momentum is often an incalculable and hackneyed term in basketball parlance, but there’s no question there was some carryover from the women’s success last weekend into Friday night against Brown. After stifling the previous week’s opponents to an average of 42.5 points per game and taking home two consecutive wins, the Big Green extended its overwhelming defensive display to start against the Bears.
After giving up a basket 33 seconds in, the Big Green immediately hunkered down on defense, holding Brown scoreless for nearly eight minutes after the initial basket. Over this stretch, Dartmouth disallowed any breathing space, forcing its foe — which went 0-11 from the field during this period — deep into the shot clock and into poor shot selection.
“Tia Dawson [’15] had a lot to do with that,” head coach Belle Koclanes said about her team’s strong defensive showing. “[She] makes such a difference out on the floor for us on both ends, and defensively to have her in the paint as our enforcer just helps our defense immensely.”
A similar story developed on the other end of the floor. Relying on its considerable size advantage and driving ability, the Big Green ferociously attacked the hoop, netting its first 10 — and 16 of its first 19 — points in the painted area, and eventually finishing the opening period with 26 points in the paint.
The cold streak for Brown also coincided with a 13-0 surge for the Big Green, which out-rebounded its opponent 9-4 during this span. After springing out to an early 15-3 edge, the Big Green would not relinquish its lead for the rest of the evening.
As she entered the final weekend of her career as a member of the Big Green, Dawson continued to show her ability to transform the game for the team. No other player had a bigger role in establishing the team’s supremacy in the post, on both offense and defense.
With 13 points on 6-7 shooting and eight rebounds, the senior center paved the way for Big Green success in the first half, contributing heavily to a +7 team rebound differential at halftime. Dawson concluded the game with a double-double — her third in the last four outings — on 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Though Brown cut the score to 17-13 just under 11 minutes into the first period, the Big Green quickly issued an emphatic response. Over the course of the next five minutes, the Big Green embarked on an 11-2 run. Lakin Roland ’16, who drove aggressively toward the hoop all night, tallied six of these points and ended with eight for the half. By the halftime break, Dartmouth had gained a commanding 37-23 lead, fueled largely by a 56.7 field goal percentage compared to the Bears’ 26.9.
Dartmouth was able to grab one of its largest first half leads without the usual strong output from its top scorer in Fanni Szabo ’17, who only posted two points in the opening half. The guard settled in nicely in the next 20 minutes of action, though, finishing with an additional 12 points in the second half.
A 6-2 Brown run to start the second half whittled Dartmouth’s lead down to 10 within the opening two minutes, yet that would be the closest the Bears got to the Big Green for the remainder of the night. In just a four minute span that followed, Dartmouth generated a 13-2 spurt to go ahead 52-31, serving as the coup de grace in the game. Three-point plays — two three-pointers and a layup plus foul shot conversion, all by different players— were essential to this run and to creating scoreboard separation for the Big Green.
“I want all five players on the floor to be able to score at any point in time,” Koclanes said. “That’s what we’re working towards, that’s how our offensive is run. It’s a five out, it means that the ball is in everyone’s hands, making decisions and having opportunities. So I love multiple players scoring. You’re a harder team to defend that way.”
Vital to the 71-53 victory, offensive productivity ran evenly across the women’s stat sheet. Four different players reached double-digit scoring — none eclipsing Szabo’s game-high 14 — and an additional three teammates connected on at least two field goals each. Effective offensive execution produced a 55.6 field goal percentage for the game. The team displayed a clearly overwhelming presence in the post as well, reaching 44-24 points in the paint over Brown and a 35-28 rebound advantage by the end of the contest.
“It hasn’t happened for us in a while,” Milica Toskovic ’15 said about multiple players reaching double-digits, herself included. “I think that just has to do with our confidence right now. We’re on a three-game winning streak, and it just [felt] like we had a lot of confidence coming in. People coming off the bench are hitting open shots. We’re really gelling well right now.”
Yet three games would be the extent of the women’s winning streak. Relapsing back into a type of play reminiscent of its six-game losing skid earlier in the conference schedule, the Big Green had one of its worst outings in its last game of 2015, ending on a sour note with a 53-28 loss to Yale.
Prior to their complete collapse, the Big Green manufactured a strong start on Saturday night in New Haven, Connecticut. Playing in the final game of her career, Toskovic capitalized on her hot shooting touch early on to score the Big Green’s first seven points. Even amid a defensive standstill that defined much of the first period of play, the Big Green rode its perfect shooting from beyond the arc — 3-3 on three point field goals for the half — to open a 13-8 lead at the 9:10 mark.
In the first four minutes of action, Yale out-rebounded Dartmouth 8-1, and seven of Yale’s rebounds came from offensive boards. By the end of the half, the Bulldogs possessed a +14 rebound differential, with its 17 on just the offensive end more than the Big Green’s total 14. The trend would come to illustrate Dartmouth’s struggle underneath the basket for the rest of the game.
“Yale just keeps coming at you,” Koclanes said. “They don’t stop, they’re one of the most aggressive teams that we play. They’re stronger than us, they play more physical. We had a hard time settling in against Yale’s pressure. We need to improve in so many areas, starting with getting stronger, individually, collectively and physically stronger.”
On the other end of the floor, the Big Green gradually descended into offensive disarray after gaining their five-point edge. Sloppy ball handling and careless passes naturally created a serious turnover problem with 11 in the first 20 minutes and another 11 in the second half of play.
The miscues primarily came in short spurts, with four turnovers occurring in less than three minutes and another five coming later in just over a three minute span. Offensive rhythm became unattainable, and the Big Green fell victim to a seven-minute scoreless drought.
The decisive rebounding disparity compensated for Yale’s own disappointing shooting display, as the Big Green remained defensively stout and forced its opponent into poor shots. A multitude of second chances allowed the Bulldogs to overcome a 25.6 field goal percentage in the first half, slightly worse than Dartmouth’s 27.8, en route to a 22-15 lead over the Big Green at halftime. Yale freshman Tamara Simpson had 20 points by the end of the night and 16 in the first half.
The halftime break changed little for the Big Green, as its turnover issues persisted in the following half. Six of the team’s first nine possessions of the new half ended due to a turnover. A dearth of scoring options only exacerbated the team’s offensive woes, as the Big Green missed six shots before Roland finally converted a three-pointer at the 13:15 mark for the team’s first points of the second half.
The triple somehow still had the Big Green within striking distance at 28-18, but the Bulldogs put a damper on Dartmouth’s hopes of a comeback, responding with a 15-2 run to secure an insurmountable 23-point lead at 43-20 with only six minutes left to play. Bulldogs Nyasha Sarju and Whitney Wyckoff combined for 12 of these points for a collective total of 18 in the second half, as Yale left its home gym triumphant by a tally of 53-28.
The Big Green finished the contest with a 22.2 field goal percentage, as no player entered double-digits in scoring. The women were also heavily out-rebounded 50-28 by Yale. Szabo, the team’s leading scorer, suffered a slow start for the second consecutive game, only this time the sophomore couldn’t recover, shooting 1-13 from the field and scoring for the first time with only 1:24 left in the game.
Despite the blowout defeat, the 2014-15 campaign remains a relative success for the team. In only the second year under the tutelage of Belle Koclanes, the Big Green reached its highest win total since a 2008-09 season that held an NCAA tournament berth. The final record at 14-14, 5-9 in the Ivy League marks a nine win improvement over one year ago.
“We’re definitely moving forward, I’m proud of this team’s effort this year,” Koclanes said. “We’re on solid ground now [getting to .500], we learned a lot of lessons along the way. The [returning players] have a ton of fire in their bellies.”
While moving on from the departure of a senior class is always difficult, the team will not incur too severe of a roster loss progressing to the next season. Replacing leadership is a concern, but the players who produced 82.6 percent of the scoring this year will return in 2015-16.
“It’s definitely going to be hard [to replace the seniors],” Roland said. “Just from a maturity and confidence standpoint. Just having all three of them on the team and battling with all of us is going to be hard to replace, but that’s what happens with a team — you lose great players, then people step up and that’s fully what we expect to do.”