NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Maybe their backs weren't really up against the wall on Friday night. Maybe that's why it looked as though Brown was the only team that showed any intensity at the Pizzitola Sports Center. It was a weird Ivy League weekend. At this point in the season, four teams were not supposed to be alive in the race for the championship. The Bears knew the pressure they were under, and they showed it from the opening tip -- attacking the Quakers and never relenting until the final buzzer sounded. The Bears fans knew the situation too. For the first time in its history, the Pizzitola Center was sold out for a Brown men's basketball game. The 2,500 raucous fans made Palestra-like noise in the tiny gym, jumping, screaming, banging their inflatable "thundersticks" and storming the court at the game's conclusion. Penn had to know the situation as well. Last year, the final Brown-Yale weekend was the chance for the Quakers to be crowned Ivy champs. This year, they were fighting to stay alive in the hunt for a third straight title. But for Brown, Friday's situation was more dire. The Bears were a game back in the standings and would face elimination with a loss. Penn was in a first-place tie with Princeton and only fell into second place with the 85-77 loss to Brown. Yes, Friday night was serious. But even with the loss, the Quakers amazingly still controlled their own destiny. Saturday was different. If Penn lost to Yale, that was it. The Quakers would have to pray that Brown could somehow upset Princeton in Providence. Their fate would have been out of their hands. And they responded. The team that lost to Brown the night before did not show its face at Yale's Payne Whitney Gym on Saturday. Instead, a determined and focused group of players walked onto the floor and suffocated the Elis, stopping them at nearly every opportunity and piling up an insurmountable lead. Yale entered that evening still alive in the Ivy race. Penn squashed those hopes minutes into the first half. It's impossible to explain this Penn team. They can look great, and they can look awful. But if one thing is clear from Saturday night's performance, it's that they knew what they were up against. "Well, I would hope that maybe this is a group that when their backs are against the wall, they respond," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "Every team is different personality-wise, and obviously this one is very different. "But I hope when they see a stressful situation, they overcome it." Well, it can't get more stressful than it is now. Friday should have been stressful, but if you judged by the Quakers' intensity, they may not have seen it as such. On Saturday, they faced elimination. They overcame the situation. Now, there is a showdown set for tomorrow night. Princeton has already laid claim to the title of 2000-01 Ivy League co-champion. If the Tigers beat the Quakers, they're going to the NCAA Tournament. Penn needs this win more than it has needed any win this season. It's amazing that Penn is still alive, considering how badly they've looked at times. It's funny, although not too surprising, that even in a very down year for the Ivy powers, it once again comes down to Penn or Princeton. But none of that matters. What matters is that the backs of the Quakers could not be pressed any closer to that proverbial wall right now. Dunphy saw how well his team responded when faced with elimination on Saturday. But even with the win, the Quakers can still see the title they've owned for two years slipping from their grasp. Two years ago, Penn was in a not-too-different situation heading into the final game at Jadwin. The roles were reversed, with Penn having already clinched a share of the title, but the Quakers needed a win to avoid a one-game playoff to decide the automatic berth. After a close first half, Penn exploded and handed Princeton its worst loss ever at Jadwin. The Red and Blue dominated the second half of that game like they dominated at Yale two nights ago. Both were stressful. Neither, though was as bad as it is now. Penn now must top the Tigers both tomorrow and in a one-game playoff to retain its title. Nothing that has happened so far matters now. It's do or die. Dunphy hopes his Quakers will respond in stressful situations. We'll see tomorrow.Comments powered by Disqus
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