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Women's basketball ends conference skid with win over Columbia

Two contrasting third quarters prove decisive in upset win over Lions, tight loss to Big Red

The women’s basketball team is in trouble — after a 1-5 start to its Ivy League season, that is undeniable. But now, for the first time since conference play started, the team may be finding its stride.

The Bears (13-7, 1-5 Ivy) traveled to Cornell (13-7, 5-1) Friday night with a 0-4 Ivy League record and immediately looked like a different team. In the first half, they outscored Cornell 41-37, powered by double-digit scoring from three players.

But once again, the Bears could not hold their slim lead.

Down four, Cornell started the second half on a 10-1 run and led 64-52 by the end of the third quarter, scoring 27 points while holding the Bears to 11. If the 12-2 preseason Bears had played the first half, the third quarter exposed the winless Ivy League Bears.

“We’ve been having a little trouble coming out in that third quarter,” said co-captain Jordin Alexander ’16. “We’ve been trying to improve on that a little bit. … A lot of it has to do with having a lot of young players; it’s a learning experience.”

Cornell held steady in the fourth quarter: They never led by fewer than eight, ultimately securing  an 85-70 victory, handing the Bears their fifth straight loss of the Ivy League season.

“That first half was one of the best halves that we’d had in a while,” Alexander said. “There were a lot of positives in it, so we’re really excited about that. It was a tough loss, because they were ready to lose that game, and we could have taken advantage of it.”

Traveling to New York City for their fourth consecutive Ivy road game and facing the prospect of an 0-6 start to the season, the Bears faced off against a Columbia team (12-9, 1-5 Ivy) that had cruised through its preseason to the tune of a 12-4 record.

“We were trying to keep everyone really positive, because it was easy for the team to get down after the Cornell loss,” Alexander said. “Everyone wanted to bounce back, and having a few losses, we were ready for a win.”

At first, it looked like one of the Bears’ signature slow starts on both ends, as they scored only eight points in the first quarter while holding Columbia to 12. But the Bears’ offense found its pace in the second quarter, scoring 21 points and cutting the deficit down to two.

Coming out of halftime, the Bears played perhaps one of their best quarters of the season, displaying the quick offensive movement and accurate shooting that allowed them to outscore preseason opponents regularly. They started the quarter on a 9-1 run and did not let up, outscoring the Lions 24-17 while shooting 56.3 percent from the field, up from 38.9 in the first half.

Head Coach Sarah Behn “was really focusing on our defense for that third quarter, trying to give us a spark so we didn’t come out flat,” Alexander said. “We put on a press in the third quarter, and Columbia wasn’t really ready for that. Our whole mentality in that third quarter, compared to Cornell, was really different, and that helped us down the stretch.”

For the first time in their Ivy League season, the Bears had a lead to hold going into the fourth quarter and continued the strong shooting that had eluded them for so long. They outscored Columbia 20-15 and shot 63.6 percent from the field, ending the game with a 10-point win. For Bruno, it was the best of signs: After stumbling through their first five games of conference competition, the Bears resumed their elite preseason form as if nothing had gone wrong.

“Coming off some of those losses, it’s easy to get down, so this is helping everyone see the bright spots in the season and see our potential,” Alexander said.

Against Columbia, the two scorers who had fueled large parts of the Bears’ 12-2 start to the season both found their offensive games once again. Alexander, who leads the Bears with 14.4 points per game, scored 20 points and added six rebounds, while Shayna Mehta ’19, who had scored 30 points against Bryant Dec. 6, added 22 points — all in the second half — and five rebounds of her own.

The Bears’ most powerful offensive weapon is not just any one player, but the team’s depth, Alexander said.

“We have so many threats on the floor all the time,” she said. “The balanced attack is important because no defense can really shut down everything.”

Now, having ended their growing losing streak, the Bears have a week to clear their heads and work on their game before finally returning home. They play Harvard (8-10, 3-2) Friday night and then Dartmouth (7-15, 2-4) Saturday. The Bears are ready to return to the form they displayed during preseason and start winning again, Alexander said.

“We’re really excited to be back home; we’ve been on the road for a couple of weeks,” Alexander said. “Everyone is confident after having a couple of good games. That will fuel us this upcoming weekend.”


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