After four straight losses, the women’s basketball team found itself needing to sweep the weekend slate in order to qualify for the inaugural Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra. Two wins later, the Bears are moving on the postseason.
In the preseason media poll, Bruno (16-11, 7-7 Ivy) was projected to finish seventh out of eight teams in the Ivy League. Nobody believed in Head Coach Sarah Behn’s team, a squad that consisted of predominantly underclassmen and two juniors.
Expectations were so low that Assistant Coach Tyler Patch vowed to get a tattoo if the team were to make the conference’s postseason.
Bruno entered the final weekend of the season knowing it had to win its final two games to keep its postseason hopes alive.
“These last couple of days, Coach has been emphasizing (that) we just have to refuse to lose at this point,” said captain Megan Reilly ’18. “We are kind of sick of losing right now.”
The Bears took this mantra to heart, convincingly besting Columbia and Cornell in consecutive contests over the weekend.
“We knew we still weren’t out of it, so we had to put everything on the floor … we didn’t want to regret anything,” said guard Shayna Mehta ’19.
The action started off in New York City Friday night when Brown faced off against Columbia (13-14, 3-11). After a slow start in the first quarter, the Bears fell behind 21-15.
But Bruno burst out in the second quarter, outscoring Columbia 25-8 to take a 40-29 lead heading into the halftime break.
The Bears further extended their lead in the third, nailing four threes while stretching their lead to 21 going into the final stanza.
Though the Lions outscored Bruno in the final 10 minutes, they would only do so by a margin of four points. The Bears won 76-59 in their most dominant conference win of the season to date.
Much of Bruno’s offense came from the bench. Janie White ’18 led the Bears in scoring with 18 points.
“Janie and (Abby O’Keefe ’20) really stepped up,” Reilly said. O’Keefe “had two big threes. She’s always so tough on defense.”
Taylor Will ’19 added 14 points of her own, and Mehta notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The following night’s season finale in Ithaca had a postseason berth on the line. Brown entered the game with a 6-7 conference record. Cornell (16-11, 7-7) entered the contest with one more Ivy win than the Bears. Having bested the Big Red earlier in the season, Bruno held the tiebreaker, so the winner of the game would be the fourth seed in the Ivy League Tournament.
In sharp contrast with Brown’s run-and-gun style of play, most of Cornell’s conference games have been marked by low scoring and strong defense. In the Big Red’s previous eight games, Cornell held its opponents to 63 points or less. Cornell has not been the strongest offensive team either — the Big Red posted only 34 points in a loss to league-leading Penn the previous weekend.
“Offense comes naturally to us,” Reilly said. “We are number one in the Ivy (League) for most points scored. So if we just run on them, we know that offense will take care of itself … but our main focus tonight is just locking down on defense.”
The game started off tight, as the two teams were knotted at 16 after the first quarter.
But Bruno’s emphasis on defense paid off. Holding Cornell to seven points in both the second and third quarters gave Brown a strong 46-30 lead going into the final frame.
Mehta was precise all night. Midway through the third quarter, the sophomore had 21 of Brown’s 39 points.
Bruno outscored the Big Red 21-16 in the final 10 minutes, and the Bears won 67-46. The 21-point win was their largest margin of victory against a conference opponent all season.
“I don’t know how we pulled out the wins by over 20 points each,” Mehta said. “I think we were just super fired up, and we just knew we had to leave it all on the court.”
Mehta led the way for the Bears and posted a prolific 28 points and six rebounds. She shot 11-16 from the field and was 4-5 from beyond the arc in the win.
Justine Gaziano ’20 and Will added 13 and 10 points respectively.
Mehta said that the team knew its preseason ranking was not representative of its skill. For them, the tournament berth is validation. “It feels good, and it feels like we’ve proved something,” Mehta said.
Mehta added that the bus ride home was a celebratory one. “We had dance parties on the bus with our coach. We were just on another level.”
Bruno will face off against Penn (19-7, 12-1) Friday in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament.
“We’re the underdog,” Mehta said. “We’re also the youngest team in the league — we start all underclassmen, so it’s super fun to show what we do.”
At the same time, the Bears know they can hang with anybody. “The last time we played (Penn), we lost by three. So they know that we can beat them,” Mehta said. “The game’s up in the air. Any team can win.”
While the team’s immediate future is uncertain, one thing is for sure: Patch will soon be getting a tattoo of a Brown “B” on either his back or his rib cage. The team will vote on the final design.