Turn Back the Clock: Feb. 7, 2009

Women's hoops turns its season around against Cornell

Feb. 7, 2009

Before this past weekend, the Penn women’s basketball team had lost to Cornell in three straight meetings.

Yet Penn’s 65-56 win on Saturday couldn’t have been as sweet as the Red and Blue’s victory over the Big Red four years ago today.
Struggling to shake off an eight–game losing streak, Penn conquered Cornell in Ithaca on Feb. 7, 2009, 79-70, to notch its first Ivy win of the season.

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The Winning Stuff

Browsing the DP archives yesterday I found a gem squeezed between some junk.  Fresh off an undefeated Ivy League Championship, the 1982-'83 Quakers were under new management.  Bob Weinhauer (who took them to the Final Four) was out, In was Craig Littlepage.  And though they had "The Winning Stuff" the season before, Penn couldn't repeat, taking 2nd with an 11-3 record.  Nonetheless, they looked great in their suits in front of Weightman Hall.

1982-83 Media Guide

82-83 Media Guide Back cover

82-83 Media Guide Back cover

Those finely appareled gentleman on the back cover were the team's five seniors (from right to left): Avery Rawlings, co-captains Michael Brown and Paul Little along with George Noon and David Lardner.

Other notemeal from the guide include

  • A young assistant athletic director — Steve Bilsky
  • Assistant coach Tom Schneider, who took over upon Littlepage's exit
  • junior George May's roster spot lists his high school coach; former Women's hoops coach Pat Knapp

Was anyone around to see these guys play? Memories from the '83 season?

Dec. 7: A date that will live in (Penn hoops) infamy

The rough year for Penn's basketball programs has been well-documented, but come midnight, the Quakers will reach a new mark of futility: It will be the latest ever that both hoops programs are winless.

With today's 65-51 loss to Navy, the women are 0-7, while Glen Miller's squad is 0-5.

Now, just nine years ago, Fran Dunphy's Quakers (who ultimately tied for second in the 2000-01 Ivy League standings, by the way) began the year 0-8, and in 1995-96, the women lost their first -- count 'em -- 22 games. So individually, the record books are far away, although first-year W. Hoops coach Mike McLaughlin -- the winngest coach in the NCAA -- must be frustrated and confused.

Collectively, though, the Quakers are entering uncharted territory. In the 40 years since the Penn's women's basketball program began, both squads have never been searching for their first win as late as Dec. 7. The season used to start later, too, which makes this even more remarkable.

So which team will win first? The men face Albany at the Palestra on Tuesday, then travel to the seemingly beatable Monmouth next Saturday; the women host rider next Saturday in their only game until after Christmas.

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Food for thought: Our dear friend Pat Knapp, now an assistant with the University of Hawaii (and wearing oh-so-appropriate digs for the new gig), is 3-5 so far. Maybe he wasn't wasting his time after all.

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I would also like to officially congratulate Noah and Zach on the good job they have done both on this blog and with the print edition of The Daily Pennsylvanian. They have begun the transition to next year's editors, who will be formally announced shortly.

Knapp back on his feet

Pat Knapp -- the former Penn women's basketball coach of much wit but not enough wins -- has signed on as an assistant with the University of Hawaii.

"He will provide an increased geography base in the recruiting department as he is well respected on the East Coast," first-year coach Dana Takahara-Dias told the Honolulu Advertiser. "He comes with skills that can help us off the bat."

Penn decided in March not to renew Knapp's contract. In his five years at the helm, the Quakers were 48-90 (.348) overall and 28-42 (.400) in the Ivy League. Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said in a press release at the time that "We are disappointed that we did not attain the levels of success we anticipated." Knapp declined comment upon his departure.

Still, Knapp's latest stop comes as a bit as a surprise. No doubt the weather is beautiful down in the Aloha State. But Knapp was a head coach for 26 seasons, including 18 at Georgetown. He won two Big East championships and was the 1992-93 Big East Coach of the Year.

Now he'll be sitting second-chair to someone with no collegiate coaching experience. And, at least to my knowledge, Hawaii is not a step up on the ladder. The school was 300th in last year's year-end RPI rankings -- 20 spots below Knapp's 9-19 Quakers.

Meanwhile, the Penn program -- now led by Mike McLaughlin -- announced its 2009-10 schedule today.

Knapp is set to begin his new job on Monday.

(HT: Brandon Moyse)

Coach of many words leaves quietly

Women's basketball coach Pat Knapp was never one to stay mum (well, except when his anger forced him to resort to hand-written statements, or when it came to possibly revealing any strategy).

But when I finally got a hold of him this afternoon -- two-plus weeks after the Athletic Department announced that his contract would not be renewed -- Knapp had no desire to speak. After I introduced myself, he immediately replied, in one breath:

"I'm sorry, I have no interest in talking, thank you very much (click)."

This from a man who guaranteed victory, then backed off; who cited Einstein and rocket science; and who invoked "Yes we can" well before Barack Obama took center stage.

Knapp didn't like the past. But we do, so after the jump, here are some of the best Knapp quotes of the last three seasons, to honor his silent departure.

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Knapp sacked

Before shifting into 24-7 March Madness mode, take a moment to consider the Penn women's basketball team, which got a big shake-up last week when the Penn brass announced that it will not renew head coach Pat Knapp's contract.

About time. Don't get me wrong -- I covered this team my freshman year and developed a lot of respect for Knapp. He is very passionate and candid to a fault, and he struck me as committed to the welfare of his players. I owe him a personal debt for always taking the time to help me understand the team's dynamics. But given how poorly Penn has performed in his five years at the helm, this was the right move for the program.

If you ask me, though, the bigger lesson is that Knapp never should have been hired in the first place.

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Knapp not returning and Random Ivy notes 3/12

1) It might be spring break, but big Penn sports news keeps on coming. In a move that isn't that surprising, Penn will not re-sign women's basketball coach Pat Knapp. That's what happens when your winning percentage at Penn is .348.

2) Here is the final Schuylkill 16 of the year.  I've really enjoyed participating in this poll, and hopefully it'll continue next season.  Something I never really noticed until now, but the college basketball regular season (well including this Championship Week) is 17 weeks -- just as long as the NFL.

3) In exactly a week one of the best-attended NCAA tournaments will being -- I'm talking about wrestling of course.  Surprisingly, one of the biggest challengers to the perennial Big 12 and Big 10 favorites is Cornell, who is ranked second in the nation.  The Wall Street Journal, of all things, has a nice profile on the Big Red and their unprecedented dominance this year.

Since there's a chance that you might need a subscription for that link to work, I'll excerpt the first part of the article after the jump.

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Women’s basketball game notes

Following a disappointing 76-49 home loss to Seton Hall (14-6, 2-5 Big East), Penn coach Pat Knapp gave a very candid and animated interview, in which he seemed to call out his team several times. Since not everything can fit into the paper, here are a few highlights, along with my analysis, below:

On Carrie Biemer’s losing her streak of 27 straight double-digit games: “Not to give people scouting reports, but [the Pirates] are quick, they’re athletic and they’re long, and they got out there on her. The thing is this isn’t all about Carrie scoring points. You saw us miss a lot of inside shots, layups, lobs, fast-breaks. That’s not the point of the night. The point of the night is we need to rededicate ourselves to a team defensive effort because, particularly in the second half, we were, to put it mildly, not very good… These are things we preach and talk about all the time. To me it makes no difference - I don’t care if Seton Hall is in the Big East or the NBA; get out there, play with focus, play with purpose, play with heart.”

Penn is in dire need of consistent second and third options outside of Biemer. The senior captain has tallied roughly 32 percent of Penn's field goal attempts and accounts for 34.7 percent of its scoring. Fellow senior Kelly Scott has been a solid threat on the outside, and she is the only player besides Biemer to average in double-figures with 11.1 points per game. Sarah Bucar's perimeter shooting is sorely missing as she battles a foot injury, and the Quakers could sure use sharpshooter Kim Adams - who left the team after the season opener - to spread opposing defenses for Biemer on the inside.

On the importance of non-conference games: “I’ve never believed that the season begins and ends on February 1 [about when the Ivy League starts in full swing]. There’s a lot of things you can do up to February 1 that can cumulatively make you better ... and get you on track. At one point we were on track, and we need to get back on track right now. We work hard every day in practice to work on combinations, to take care of the ball, to rebound, to run good stuff. I’m certainly not critical of every player that played tonight. We had some that played pretty sharply and with a lot of heart. But when you’re asked to rebound and you just don’t flat-out box somebody out, you didn’t do the right thing. And I don’t care what uniform or number you have, or whether you start or whether you don’t. Answer back. Penn needs to answer back: ‘What are my basic responsiblities?’ I’m not very happy with this effort at all, and I could care less what is read or not read because I’m going to say the same things to the team.”

Non-conference games have been a weakness for Penn (3-11, 0-1 Ivy) in the last few years, but then again the Ivy League is relatively weak, especially compared to the major conferences like the Big East. The team's seniors were unable to record a Big 5 victory over four years, though to be fair, Penn played its Philadelphia rivals much tougher this season. And when the Quakers don't represent well in Philadelphia, it certainly can't help in Knapp's efforts to recruit local-area kids.

As for rebounding, Penn struggled mightily early on with its small lineup, but had appeared to bounce back over winter break with encouraging efforts on the boards, even against big teams like Temple.

On Sarah Bucar’s absence: “We miss everybody. We miss Jess Knapp; we miss Jourdan Banks. Nobody has any idea what they would have done to our depth, or to our competition or to our scoring. It’s just not Sarah Bucar. Do we miss Sarah? Of course we miss Sarah. But it’s Anca [Popovici’s], and Tyler [Cumbo’s] and Erin [Power’s] job to lead the team. Having said that, I think two people who played really hard … and stayed focused and tried to do what we asked them to do, certainly tonight I would put Anca and Erin at the top of that list. I’m not going to go down the whole list. It’s a team effort, and I would be shocked if Anca and Erin were satisfied with their games. I’d be shocked because the bottom line is [that] Penn plays well and Penn wins.”

Like all coaches, Knapp wants to emphasize the players he has on the floor, but Bucar is especially missed for her maturity and leadership as a floor marshall on offense. Bucar is also tenacious in ball pressure on defense and has recorded a team-high 1.3 steals per game.

On Big East teams being of a higher caliber than Ivy League teams: “It doesn’t matter. Here’s why…. Harvard’s a pretty big team, [and there were] a couple big girls on that team out there today, right? We didn’t box them out, and we can. We can. [There are] a couple pretty quick players on the Dartmouth team. Well, same thing tonight. It doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t matter. What we don’t want to be here is ordinary. This is very important. If you print anything, print this. We don’t want to be ordinary. That we just show up, and when the uniform says a different league, we’re supposed to lose. That’s not my makeup. I hate that. So we do everything we can to get these kids ready to pull the upset, get the big win, put in the great effort. Prior to this, what does it matter that we lost to Villanova by two, St. Joe’s was a close game [along] with La Salle [and] Temple. It doesn’t matter. Now is now. The last two weeks is the last two weeks. If we can transfer those lessons, bring them to the table. And all those teams had different strengths… So I thought we had a shot [tonight]."

Knapp is certainly right that Penn's effort against Seton Hall won't get it done against the Ivy League, as was evident in the opener at Princeton, which Penn lost 64-49. The Quakers have been quite inconsistent this season and need to regain the tenacity they showed against the Big 5, even though they couldn't quite come away with victories. Led of course by Biemer, Penn has certainly shown flashes of the talent necessary to have a decent showing in the Ivy League.

On Penn’s offense: “At halftime, 11 assists and 11 turnovers, you don’t want to turn the ball over like that. We can’t have 16 [turnovers] against these guys, but yeah, you’re right, that was a little better… Offensively, how many backdoors or drives or post-ups or offensive rebounds did we make? And you said, rightly so, 15 assists to 16 turnovers. So offensively we did our share of good things. I went on a 10 minute rant here about what? [Rebounding, boxing out] and defense. Toughness is necessary, focus is necessary, and defense as a team is necessary.”

Penn's offensive flow has improved drastically over the course of the season, though there is still quite a long way to go. The offensive execution wasn't particularly bad against Seton Hall, though the Pirates did contain Biemer and Scott. Sophomore guard Erin Power continues to be the unsung hero on offense. Even though she doesn't score a lot of points, she facilitates much of what Penn does offensively and has stepped up even more recently. Power has 46 assists - 29 more than anyone else on the team - to only 21 turnovers. To put it another way, Power is +25 in assist-to-turnover ratio while the rest of the team is a combined -63.

Knapp will certainly lay into his team in practice in the next few days, and Penn will look to be a different team in the Ivy League slate this weekend. As Knapp said:

“I have no idea how this effort gets us ready for Harvard and Dartmouth, but I’ll tell you something: we’re going to bust our butts the next three days to get ready.”

Pat Knapp’s prediction

Women's basketball coach Pat Knapp is doing his best Anthony Smith.

As reported in today's DP, the Penn coach said that his team would end its losing streak "next game," which is quite the statement given that streak is ten games long.

Knapp's team hasn't won since eeking out a win over Rider on Nov. 28, and in that time the losses have come in all shapes and sized. Villanova held the Quakers to a measly 26 points; Eastern Kentucky put up 100 on them. Junior Kelly Scott, who should be a top option, has scored 5, 15, 15 and 8 points in her four games since returning from injury, a boost but nothing earthshaking.

Harvard, which Penn faces on Feb. 1, is one of the better teams in the Ivy League with a 7-8 mark. Poster-board material, anyone?