Brian Kotloff | Last year’s lessons stick with Penn
This year could be different for the Quakers if they learn from last season
February 1, 2012, 12:59 am·
Megan Falls | DP
Here they were again, back at the Palestra’s press room table sitting on a 3-0 Ivy League start.
The roaring crowd had exited, face paint washed into sinks and signs deposited into trash bins. All that remained were two rival teams recuperating in opposing locker rooms, Penn captain Zack Rosen hunched beside coach Jerome Allen, two water bottles and 10 recorders.
“How does it feel to be 3-0?” Rosen was asked after Monday night’s 82-67 win over Princeton.
His palm leaned against his chin and he gazed to the ceiling.
“I’ve got to watch what I say here,” he began, slowly. “Because we were 3-0 last year sitting at this same table. And we were 3-4 four games later.”
Last year, everything the Quakers built during a trio of league wins crumbled to pieces in a nightmarish week.
“In the next two games, we control where our season goes,” Rosen had said after a picture-perfect 78-47 home romp over Dartmouth. “This is it — finally.”
It ended in disaster. Penn’s hopes for its first league championship since 2007 were halted when Rosen’s Feb. 5 buzzer-beater hit the fingertips of Harvard’s Kyle Casey, then dashed during brain-cramp moments in Princeton, N.J., three days later. Two opportunities to overtake their rivals presented themselves to the Quakers, and each ended in demoralizing overtime defeat.
Now the same scenario sits in front of them, one of those rare times when the rewind button has been pressed, when a mulligan has been granted.
The Quakers are once again surging. Puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit together a month ago now look like a perfect match.
Tyler Bernardini is raining in threes left and right. Miles Cartwright is slashing through the lane whenever the game demands it. Rob Belcore is flying around both ends of court.
And, this time around, freshman Henry Brooks is rising for dunks and sophomore Steve Rennard is suffocating opposing guards. The team is playing with the energy and unity of a champion.
This time around, three games that resulted in 2011 losses — versus Columbia, Cornell and Princeton — have resulted in wins. An early hurdle has been cleared, and it feels as if Rosen can lead this group over any obstacle it encounters.
The first checkpoint will need to be cleared 200-plus miles away, during this weekend’s roadtrip to Yale and Brown.
The highest hurdle arrives Feb. 10, when the almighty Crimson will grace the Palestra floor. “Harvard will win the Ivy, so [NCAA tournament] seeding is the main issue going forward,” an ESPN expert recently wrote.
Maybe the humming echoes from the stands on Monday night drowned out any rational thought. Maybe, like last year, the glue that holds the Quakers together will soften. But it is difficult to believe that the team that electrified the Palestra won’t have something to say about that guarantee.
Nights like Monday allow the mind to wander, if only for a fleeting moment, to a time when a 26th banner hangs from the rafters. Is it all just a pipe dream? The Quakers have 11 games to determine their fate.
This is it — again.
BRIAN KOTLOFF is a senior communication major from Elkins Park, Pa., and is former Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.