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Ivy W. Hoops a Complex Picture

By Brian E. Fallon, Contributing Writer

Women's basketball in the Ivy League can get complicated.

On Jan. 7, Harvard beat Dartmouth in the first league game of the year. Since then, Dartmouth has twice beaten Penn, who has twice beaten Harvard.

Dartmouth has also lost to Princeton, whom Harvard beat, but the Tigers beat Brown, who beat Harvard.

Oh yeah, and Penn lost to Columbia, who lost to both Dartmouth and Harvard.

Any questions?

Needless to say, parity has prevailed in Ivy League women's hoops this year. On any given weekend, even the league's cellar-dwellers have proven capable of humbling the conference's top contenders.

So far this season, all three teams currently at or near the top of the standings--Dartmouth (17-7, 9-2 Ivy), Penn (17-8, 8-3), and Harvard (15-8, 8-3)--have occupied the leader's spot at least once. Less than two weeks ago, the trio was tied for first place, but upset losses suffered by the Crimson and the Quakers gave the Big Green a one-game advantage.

Heading into this past weekend, a shake-up in the conference standings seemed imminent as first-place Dartmouth and second-place Harvard went on the road to face Penn, also in second place, and Princeton (4-7, 7-18), the defending Ivy League co-champion.

As it turned out, the weekend's events left all three Ivy frontrunners in exactly the same position. Dartmouth, Harvard, and Penn each lost once, leaving the Crimson and the Quakers still tied for second behind the Big Green.

As the season now enters its final week and a half, no team can afford to take anything for granted.

Another loss by either Harvard or Penn could effectively make a league championship an impossibility for both teams. Additionally, should the Big Green run the table in its final three games, it will claim the Ivy title outright.

Of the two teams breathing down Dartmouth's neck, only Harvard has the ability to control its own destiny. While the Quakers have already played the Big Green twice, the Crimson takes on the Ivy pole-sitter in both teams' last regular season game.

When Harvard travels to Hanover on Mar. 7, it will face a much different Dartmouth team from the one it upended at home back in January. After that defeat, the Big Green went on to win its next eleven games.

That winning streak was snapped just this past weekend, as Princeton shocked Dartmouth 64-51on Saturday. The loss came one night after Harvard had survived an injury to sophomore point guard Jenn Monti to outlast the Tigers, 47-43.

The loss to Princeton aside, Dartmouth has made great progress since its loss to Harvard.

Senior guard Courtney Banghart has recently returned to top form on both ends of the floor. She is currently ranked third in the league in both scoring (16.1 ppg) and three-point shooting percentage (.359). In addition, she has given opposing offenses major headaches, garnering a league-best 87 steals.

Dartmouth also features the leading candidate for Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Katherine Hanks. The freshman forward is the team's best rebounder (7.0 rpg) and second leading scorer behind Banghart (14.7 ppg).

This weekend, the Big Green faces Cornell (11-13, 3-9) and Columbia (6-18, 5-7), who occupy fifth and last place in the league, respectively. The two teams combined for just one win in four games this weekend, as the Lions downed Yale 65-53.

One team that surely will be rooting for a Dartmouth loss is Penn.

Before dealing the Crimson a 79-66 defeat this past Saturday, the Quakers squandered an opportunity to move into a tie for first by falling 75-71 to the Big Green on Friday night.

Despite 29 points from center Diana Caramanico and 22 from guard Mandy West, Penn failed to stop Dartmouth's offense which boasted four players in double figures.

Against Harvard, Penn's prolific scoring capabilities yielded a far better result. Caramanico, the Ivy League Player of the Week, once again ruled the day, contributing a game-high 31 points and adding ten rebounds as the Quakers walloped the Crimson, 79-66 at the Palestra.

With Caramanico and West ranked one and two among scorers in the Ivy League, Penn's offense is the most formidable in the conference. The Quakers, whose win total this season has already broken a school record, average 75.6 ppg.

Even still, the Quakers will be confronted with no small task this coming weekend when it faces Yale and Brown.

Yale (10-15, 6-6), who split this past weekend with Columbia and Cornell, will enter its contest against Penn with the league's best defense. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to just 65.2 ppg.

Led by Maria Smear, the league's best three-point shooter, and Kelly Denit, who tops the conference in assists, Yale is fully capable of mustering a win.

Brown (8-18, 3-9), meanwhile, is coming off its best weekend of the season. The Bears defeated Cornell 70-64 on Friday and then proceeded to upstage Columbia 70-65 the following day.

Furthermore, the Bears have already established themselves as giant-killers with their upset of the Crimson earlier this month, the team's first league win.

Upsets are one thing Harvard needs to avoid this weekend.

Harvard has lately been forced to make due in spite of injuries to three of its regular starters, junior forward Katie Gates, junior center Melissa Johnson and Monti.

Monti's sprained ankle has only compounded the difficulties for Harvard. The team's floor general was relegated to a limited role this past weekend, attempting just three shots in Saturday's loss at Penn.

On the bright side, freshmen Bree Kelley and Sarah Johnson have stepped up their games in recent weeks. Both notched career scoring highs against the Quakers.

Even still, Harvard will stand in much better stead when it restores itself back to full health.

Theoretically, Harvard should be able to dispose of both Columbia and Cornell this weekend, thus paving the way to the season-ending showdown with arch-rival Dartmouth.

Then again, this is the Ivy League, where the only certainty is that nothing is certain.

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