The women's basketball team (4-11, 1-0 Ivy) entered Levien Gymnasium Saturday afternoon eagerly anticipating its first opportunity to showcase what head coach Stephanie Glance has called a different team than the one fans saw early in the season.
The Light Blue proved that it in fact is a very different squad by downing the Big Red (8-7, 0-1 Ivy) 71-64 with the confidence and poise Glance has been emphasizing all season.
“We've had to build and we've had to try to really teach them how to win,” she said. “Tonight we were able to play with some emotion, and we were excited when things were going right, and I think that kind of emotion comes from confidence.”
Early on, the game was dominated by stifling defense from both the Lions and the Big Red. Eight minutes into the contest, Columbia found itself with a 9-5 advantage, due in part to Cornell shooting 1-for-9 from the field up to that point.
However, the tempo of the game soon shifted to a faster pace after junior guard Miwa Tachibana netted back-to-back threes, putting the Lions up 17-10.
From there, the teams exchanged baskets until only a few seconds remained in the half. On the tail end of a pair of successful free throws from Cornell forward Allyson DiMagno, the Lions managed to get the ball into senior guard Taylor Ward's hands at half-court, where she banked in the buzzer-beater, giving the Light Blue some extra momentum going into the break.
The second half picked up right where the first left off with tempo being pushed early. In spite of being held to just 1-3 shooting and not grabbing a single rebound in the second half, DiMagno began to heat up, pulling the Big Red closer to the Lions and eventually giving her team the lead, 43-42, with 9:27 left in the game.
However, the Light Blue kept it even for a couple of minutes, and eventually regained the lead at the 6:45 mark.
As the game entered the homestretch, it was looking like it was going to remain close, but clutch free-throw shooting, disciplined defense, and an ability to pull down crucial rebounds—both offensive and defensive—enabled the tenacious Lions to maitain their lead and to close out the game.
Leading the way on the boards for the Lions was senior forward Courtney Bradford, who pulled down 11 rebounds. Perhaps more importantly, Bradford and junior forward Amara Mbionwu were able to keep up with Cornell's physical play in the paint, even once they were both on the verge of fouling out.
“Amara and Courtney did a great job in the first half, but in the second half, when they got into foul trouble, they really had to do a good job because they had to play really good defense without fouling,” Glance said.
After a stellar second half, Cornell's DiMagno ended up leading all scorers with 17 points. Leading the way for the Lions was first-year guard Carolyn Binder, who netted 16, going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Glance is happy to see her team start the Ivy season 1-0, which hasn't been done in four years, but she knows that it will have to do a lot more to shake its underdog status. Also, she says that has helped her team up to this point, and she is excited to see what the future holds for the Light Blue.
“We're still going to be the underdog all season, which is great, and I've talked to the players about this,” she said. “When you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, you can just play free and you can become confident. And I thought the way we closed out the game showed that.”