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Men’s, women’s basketball hit stride midway through Ivy play

Bears look to youthful bench to supplement veteran contributors

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 2016

Each season, the Ivy League team with the best conference record is granted automatic entry to the NCAA basketball tournament because the Ancient Eight does not have a separate qualifying tournament. Unlike other schools that would stand a chance at receiving an at-large bid, Ivy League teams typically do not warrant consideration. Therefore, the Ivy season is often referred to as the 14-game tournament. The men’s and women’s basketball teams have played four weeks and will have reached the halfway point of their season after Friday’s contests.

Men’s Basketball

The men’s basketball team got off to a tough start in Ivy League play, dropping its first three games. But the Bears have seemingly found an offensive rhythm over the past three contests, going 2-1 during the stretch and positioning themselves well to move up the conference standings in the coming weeks.

“Saturday night against Penn — that’s when we really started to turn things around,” said Steven Spieth ’17. “The guys are starting to play with a lot of confidence and the shots are starting to fall.”

Bruno now ranks as the third-best offensive team in conference play, averaging 73.5 points per game. Much of this success has stemmed from impressive shooting from beyond the arc, where Bruno is second in the league at 45.4 percent. Team captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 leads the league at a staggering 63.2 percent, while Tavon Blackmon ’17 is second at 57.1 percent.

The increased offensive efficiency has largely been the product of good ball movement and the unselfish nature of the group, said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04.

This selflessness is certainly evident in Bruno’s scoring attack, which is spread out among the entirety of the roster. Spieth leads the way at 15.5 points per game — good enough for fifth in the league — but Blackmon and Kuakumensah are close behind, averaging 14.2 and 13.8 points, respectively.

Martin pointed out that 10 players on the roster have scored in double digits at some point during the season, an indication of the bench’s depth. He added that the team is now focused on bringing out more consistency from these players, many of whom are underclassmen and still learning the tricks of the trade.

On the defensive end, it has been anything but easy for the Bears. Bruno has the worst rated defense in Ivy League play, allowing over 80 points per game. The struggles start with rebounding and defending the interior, both of which have much to do with the team’s general lack of size, Martin and Spieth each mentioned. The team has dedicated practice time to addressing this shortcoming.

“We are pretty undersized,” Spieth said. “We’ve been doing a lot of boxing-out drills.”

The lone bright spot has been three-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Kuakumensah, who earlier this year broke the all-time Ivy League record for blocked shots. Kuakumensah has been his usual self this season, leading the league in blocks at 3.2 per game. The senior power forward now holds the highly unusual position of leading the Ivy League in both three-point percentage and blocked shots per game.

The Bears will hope to turn things around on defense tonight against Harvard (9-13, 1-5 Ivy) and tomorrow when they travel to Dartmouth (7-13, 1-5). Facing the league’s cellar dwellers should give Bruno a great opportunity to get back to .500 before they square off against Penn, a team they already beat earlier this season. From there, a top four finish in the conference looks like a real possibility.

Women’s Basketball

After getting off to a blistering start in non-conference play, the women’s basketball team ran into the roadblock that is the Ivy League, dropping its first five conference games before taking down Columbia this past weekend. The team hopes they can build on their latest win and continue to trend in the positive direction.

“We faced a really rough beginning to our schedule,” said captain Jordin Alexander ’16. “But I’m proud of the way the girls bounced back against Columbia, and hopefully we can build off that.”

During the opening stretch of Ivy League play, the Bears struggled with scoring, averaging a second-to-worst 56.3 points per game in conference play. It seems that shooting has been the team’s kryptonite, particularly from three-point land, where they are converting only 21.1 percent of the time.

But while many on the young team members are still trying to find their touch, the veteran Alexander has been as steady as ever, leading the team with 15.7 points per game. She is also the Ivy League’s sixth-highest scorer.

The team is looking to the transition game as a catalyst for better success in the future, Alexander said.

“When we push the ball, we can score at will,” said captain Ellise Sharpe ’16. “That’s something we really do well as a team.”

She added that they are also hoping to get the ball into the post more often to help generate open looks.

Unfortunately for the Bears, things are not much better on the other end of the floor, where the team ranks second worst in the league at 69.2 points allowed per game. But even if the collective defensive product may not be finely polished, there are several areas where Bruno has found success.

The team is second in the Ivy League in blocked shots per game, with Janie White ’18 leading the way at an impressive 2.5 per game. Also, Rebecca Musgrove ’17 and Shayna Mehta ’19 have demonstrated their defensive prowess, each averaging over two steals per game.

It is important to note that the Bears’ struggles should be taken with a grain of salt. This past weekend, Bruno put out a starting lineup that included three first-years: Mehta, Mary Butler ’19 and Erika Steeves ’19. Mehta and Steeves rank third and fourth on the team in total minutes played in conference games. While playing an inexperienced lineup can be tough in the moment, it can lead to large dividends in years to come.

The last six Ivy League contests have gone a long way in the team’s development, Alexander said.

“We are learning to keep our composure when the game is close,” Alexander said. “The past few games have been great experiences in that regard, and that will definitely help us down the stretch.”

The Bears are now gearing up to face off against Harvard (8-11, 3-3) and Dartmouth (7-15, 2-4). Last season, Bruno swept the teams on the road and hopes to repeat the feat at home.