Penn (7-8, 0-1 Ivy) will head to Cornell (10-6, 2-0) Saturday night as the Ivy League season kicks into full gear. Cornell coach Dayna Smith has been with the team for 10 seasons and is already the winningest coach in program history. Prior to taking over for the Big Red, Smith spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Penn. I spoke with Coach Smith about Cornell’s season so far and what the matchup with Penn will mean to both teams.
What led you to Cornell after three seasons with Penn?
Smith: I was able to work at Penn for three seasons under Kelly Greenberg and she did a fantastic job with the program and we were able to win a championship. I was there for Penn’s first women’s basketball Ivy League championship. It was just a tremendous experience as my first job in the Ivy League being able to work with the type of student-athlete. We had a well-balanced team with some players that are probably still on the record-books. It was my second stint as an assistant after I spent three years at my alma mater at Rhode Island. Because of our success I was fortunate enough to be able to get the Cornell job.
What have you thought about your season so far?
Smith: We have a veteran team with nine seniors and juniors. You can just tell the experience and the amount of leadership we have is the big difference for us from last season. I’ve been very happy with where our team has been. We had one big letdown against Bucknell. That was a game where everything went wrong and everybody played poorly. You hope to have only one of those a year and hopefully we got that out of our system.
As of late, we’ve been playing good basketball. We played a very scrappy, physical Columbia team in back-to-back weekends and were able to come out of that type of environment with a double-overtime victory on Saturday. We were able to get two Ivy League wins right off the start and be able to win on the road. That’s always tough in this league. We’re excited for these back-to-back night games. We have two forwards that are our leading scorers and our point guard leads the league in assists.
How does everyone match up in the Ivy League this year?
Smith: The league looks very tough. I think everyone has improved. Obviously, until someone knocks off Princeton, they’ll be the cream of the crop. In preparing this week for them, they just look good. They have talent in every position and they’re skilled in every position. They really don’t have a weakness and that just makes it very difficult to scheme and prepare. I’ve been most impressed with their defense. That’s going to be a challenge for anyone. When you look at the league, Penn is having a very good year. You can see their maturity in their players. You can see them developing that experience and that familiarity with one another.
Obviously, Alyssa Baron is a fantastic offensive player and I think she’s starting to have pieces around her. If you can bring in a player of her caliber and surround them with people that can score or penetrate and be able to kick to her and be able to score inside for her. That’s when you’ll have success and you can definitely see Penn is starting to develop that. Harvard has a terrific team and Dartmouth was able to knock them off. I think what you see in the league is anyone can beat anyone on any given night. That sounds cliché but it is something we preach and something we believe in.
How does Penn matchup with Cornell?
Smith: I don’t subscribe to the statistics of former years. I think in any home Ivy League game you give the home team a few point advantage but we need to play solid basketball for 40 minutes. Penn is very physical and scrappy and they like to have a lot of movement and motion on offense. They try to play up-tempo and we like to play up-tempo so we’re going to have to play solid defense. We’re going to have to understand where their shooters are and play perimeter penetration defense. We need to keep our composure because Penn does like to get in your face and play physical. That’s something we’ve gotten used to from a lot of Ivy teams but from Penn in particular.
For us, we’re going to have to have a good game against Princeton on Friday and bounce back on Saturday regardless of the outcome and be ready to play a whole different game plan. I think that’s a challenge for every Ivy team on that Saturday game. We’re glad we won’t be on a bus driving here Friday night but I think that might be a slight advantage being at home. Penn will be fresh and hopefully we’ll be ready for that game as well. I think you’re looking at Alyssa Baron leading the way and we have to contain her by playing team defense. We’re not a very good one-on-one defensive team, we like to play team defense and that’s going to have to be in effect in order to slow her down.