By Mel Greenberg
It may be fool’s gold to talk about Penn moving within a game of first-place Princeton in the Ivy race down the stretch but that’s where things are after Friday night’s action in which the Tigers’ record win streak of 33 games was stopped by Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., near Boston, while the Quakers kept chugging along by beating host Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
“Just look at the stats sheet, that says it all, but maybe it will help us in March,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart texted to the Guru from the team bus traveling in opposite directions from the Quakers’ vehicle for Saturday’s games when the Tigers face Banghart’s alma mater and Penn faces Harvard in a major showdown at 6 p.m. in Cambridge.
Princeton Iost narrowly 58-55, shooting a season-low 25.8 from the field in a game that might have been a rout by the Crimson had not the Tigers stayed in position to perhaps steal the game and extend the streak by making 20-of-28 foul shots.
Kristen Helmstetter had 18 points for Princeton (18-6, 9-1 Ivy), while Niveen Rasheed, the two-time reigning Ivy player of the year, had 13 points and 11 rebounds, but shot 3-for-12 from the field.
It was sweet turnabout for Harvard, which got 21 points from Victoria Lippert and 14 from Christine Clark in handing Princeton its first loss in the league since the 2010-11 season. The Crimson (16-8, 7-3) held the previous Ivy win streak of 32 (1996-98), which was surpassed last weekend by Princeton, which stopped Harvard’s then-record win streak.
The Tigers, who are expected to take the loss out on Dartmouth Saturday night, overall are now 50-2 in the Ivies since 2009-10 with three straight league crowns in the trophy case and a fourth still expected. The previous league loss was also to Harvard during Rasheed’s sophomore season when she was sidelined most of it with a knee injury.
Penn, meanwhile, is playing like it’s 2004-05 – the last season the Quakers (15-9, 8-2), who beat Dartmouth 55-45, achieved some of things they have attained.
Several weeks ago coach Mike McLaughlin’s squad swept Dartmouth and Harvard at home, which snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Crimson.
The Harvard win over Princeton, however, removed several safety nets in alternative ways Penn could finish at least tied for second and have a tiebreak with the Crimson.
Of course, Penn can grab a firm handle on the spot by beating Harvard Saturday night for a sweep.
It was suggested to McLaughlin after the Harvard result was known that his staff should send several crates of champagne down to Cambridge to fuel an all-night Crimson celebration and have them take Penn lightly in the rematch.
“To think of it, that might not be a bad idea,” McLaughlin said from the team bus heading in opposite directions from Princeton’s travels.
In terms of mathematical projections, on paper Penn has the head-to-head game Saturday with Harvard in which they could take a two-game lead for second, which would mean most likely a berth in the WNIT.
And, of course, should Princeton lose again along the line – the two Ivy southern pair of the Tigers and Quakers host Brown and Yale next weekend – Penn
could tie for first and go ahead or by keep winning, force a tie for first at the finish by beating Princeton at home in the Palestra on March 13.
But reality suggests different scenarios, which we’ll return to in a few paragraphs.
As for details in the win over Dartmouth (6-18, 4-6), Penn senior Brianna Bradford scored 17 points, Keiera Ray scored 13, and Kara Bonenberger grabbed 15 rebounds.
Penn junior star Alyssa Baron was limited due to foul trouble but she did manage to score 14 points in a little over 24 minutes and move into the Quakers’ top five of all-time career scorers with 1,273 points, just 20 short of Dionne Anthon (1989-92), who is fourth on the Penn charts.
As for 2004-05, until Penn’s clincher Friday night, that was the last time the Quakers had a winning record. They also matched their most Ivy wins since the same season and the win streak, which has reached six, is also the most since 2004-05, which was also the last time Penn produced a winning season in the league.
As for those other scenarios, Penn now must beat Harvard or will need some help from someone else in the league, though when all is said and done – postseason or no – McLaughlin can look at a third straight major improvement.
Harvard’s win over Princeton means that if Penn and the Crimson tie for second, Harvard would be considered the second place team for the automatic slot to the WNIT because of a better win.
Had that not happened and tie still occur, perhaps Penn might be holding the tiebreak with a better win against another Ivy opponent.
Of course, sweeping Harvard with a win this weekend and then finishing tied with the Crimson gives Penn the advantage. The other reason a win is needed over the Crimson is Penn is not likely to win over Princeton so the Quakers need to build a two-game advantage on Harvard but in any event would need to sweep Yale and Brown next weekend in the Palestra.
We will wait 24 hours to advance Sunday since the gridlock that is coming with potential ties in the final Atlantic 10 standings needs to be discerned as to what would untangle the mess to create the teams on the 12-team brack for the conference tourney, which launches next weekend at Saint Joseph’s Hagan Arena.
Other than the two Ivy games, two other PhilahoopsW teams play Saturday and both are in the Big East where Villanova travels to Syracuse and Rutgers travels to Cincinnati.
A second win over Syracuse could having the Wildcats heading for a sixth place finish after being picked for 10th in the preseason by the league coaches.
Otherwise it might be eighth place and begin play in next weekend’s tournament against Rutgers, which is looking to win its last two games – the Scarlet Knights host last-place Pittsburgh Monday night – and more to scramble and avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 seasons.
Big East Breakup – Upon Further Review
The Guru talked to several sources – informally – Friday night who were familiar with talks in Atlanta among the football schools of the Big East still to be together but under a different name once the seven departing Catholic schools officially pull out for next season taking the Big East brand with them.
While the Guru has jested that in the new configuration, powerful Connecticut in women’s basketball is about to be known as a Mid-major, considering who the Huskies would be playing league-wise.
Not quite true, however.
It is the Catholic 7, who will probably still be called the Big East when everything is settled, who become Mid-Major because they are not football schools.
One source speaking of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said that “Geno has his own brand that is so powerful, it will be helpful to the rest of the group.”
There is some chance that one of the groups in women’s basketball could play a postseason tournament at the Mohegan Sun, more likely the Connecticut crowd because of Connecticut and the presidents of those schools would less likely have a problem playing at the casino-entertainment complex than the presidents of the Catholic schools, who reportedly were opposed when the Mohegan Sun made an attempt to land the Big East women’s tournament in the past over Hartford’s XL Center.
The Guru was also told that despite all the reports in the news, nothing is certain yet because a slew of issues remain in the breakup negotiations including exit fees, name change, etc.
An aside, the Guru recently spoke with an athletic director no longer involved in Big East affairs who said the football schools would be better served changing the brand.
Notre Dame gets treated differently in everything, according to several sources. The Irish would like to head to the Atlantic Coast Conference now in light of everything but they would be charged several sheckles while because of existing bylaws the Catholic 7 on the books count just as one exit in a unified setting.
The current Big East office is said to have a lease of $5 million that would be costly to break so somebody is going to stay in Providence for the foreseeable future.
Several referees are thrilled with the split because with the Catholic 7 including a handful of regionally located schools in the East, there will be extra paydays working more games and also there’s the addition of an extra conference tournament with an automatic qualifier to also work.
Much more to come on this topic, including Guru talks with the Atlantic 10 that is in danger of losing several schools to the Catholic 7 crowd.