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M. Hoops seeks to stay in first

(02/28/03 10:00am)

This weekend, the Ivy League's men's basketball powerhouses square off in a four-way battle for dominance of the league. The league champion is mathematically guaranteed to come from the quartet of Penn, Brown, Princeton and Yale. This year's Ancient Eight competition is split conspicuously down the center between four "haves" and four "have-nots." With less than two weeks remaining in league play, the hapless group of Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Columbia have failed to claim a single victory against the four in a dogfight for first. The 24-0 record of the top against the bottom has left the top teams in a dogfight for first, and so far Penn is prevailing. New Haven and Providence are the next stops on the Quakers' Ivy title defense tour. Two weeks ago undefeated Penn (17-5, 9-0 Ivy) swept Yale and Brown at the Palestra. The Red and Blue hold a slim half-game lead over Brown (9-1 Ivy) after a seven point come-from-behind victory at home. Brown would be leading the Ivy League now if not for three clutch three-pointers down the stretch by guards David Klatsky and Jeff Schiffner. Penn scored the final 12 points in its first showdown with Brown to claim a 73-66 victory. "The difference between winning and losing is very fragile," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. The Quakers have had some more experience with that line than Brown as of late. Over the past two seasons Penn has played in a great number of games that would be decisive for the Ivy League title. Over the same two-year span Brown has only played in games with title implications for rival teams. "Last year the last 10 games were basically playoff games," senior point guard Andrew Toole said. "And we had the playoff game at Yale. That might give us an edge, but they'll be ready." This season's Brown team looks much tougher than those in recent memory. The Bears have easily been the flashiest team in the league with a conference-best 76.5 points per game in conference play. Brown also boasts the league's top scoring threat, senior shooting guard Earl Hunt. Hunt's 19.0 points per game make him a safe bet to win his third scoring title in as many years. Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe trails Hunt by nearly four points per game. "He's a really good player as a team we just have to try as a team to limit his shots," Schiffner said. "He's going to get his shots and his points, you've just got to make sure he doesn't get rolling and dominate the game." Behind the gaudy scoring average, however, is a different number that predicts an advantage for Penn in the rematch. The Quakers' own the league's top defense, allowing an average of eleven fewer points than Brown and giving Penn the top scoring margin in the league. The Bears have needed every bit of their offense on the way to compile their record. Only Harvard has allowed more points per game. Yale, the surprise team in last season's three-way title tie, has an outside chance at reentering the race. However, at 6-4 Yale is more likely to play the part of spoiler than champion this year. Yale led Penn at the half in their first matchup, but the Quakers dominated in the second half on the way to a 68-57 win. Guards Edwin Draughan and Chris Leanza both scored in double figures for the Elis' balanced attack. Yale gets more minutes from its bench than perhaps any team in the Ancient Eight. Against Penn, nine Elis players logged twelve or more minutes on the court. If Penn can sweep its opponents this weekend, they will likely repeat as the champ. "To be good enough to represent our league in the tournament we need to be good enough to go on the road," Dunphy said. "And beat two very good teams."

Winner in driver's seat for Ivy League title

(02/11/03 10:00am)

Tonight's sellout crowd at the Palestra will witness an episode in one of the most storied college basketball rivalries. Penn and Princeton have combined to win the last 14 Ivy League men's basketball championships and together own 41 of the 46 titles in league history. The last time the Quakers and the Tigers met, Penn won 64-48, claiming its share of the three-way Ivy League title. The Quakers won both of the pair's league games in 2002, while in 2001, Princeton swept the Red and Blue on their way to the Ivy title. Penn leads the all-time series 111-95. "There's always that extra little something that you can't describe going into the game," Penn senior forward Ugonna Onyekwe said. "It's always a big game and there's always a lot of buzz around it." Onyekwe was the hottest Penn player in the weekend's two games, scoring 12 points against Cornell and pouring in a game-high 16 against Columbia. The defending Ivy Player of the Year also pulled down a team-leading seven rebounds against the Lions. Although the Quakers were the victors in their road games, the scores were closer than would be expected from the teams' records. Penn bested Cornell by only three points and scored a season-low 47 against Columbia. "Obviously our goal is to be champions of the league," Onyekwe said. "We've just got to come out and try to do better than we did this weekend." The Red and Blue hope that their two sluggish weekend performances are not indicative of a trend, as seen in losses against Drexel and Delaware. Early in the season, Penn lost four of six in a stretch of more than a month. They also rattled off consecutive games against USC and Monmouth in which they scored 99 and 98 points, respectively. "We've been a spurty team," Dunphy said. "When we're good, we're very good and when we're not so good, we're not very good at all." The traditional mystique surrounding the rivalry will be supplemented this season because, like so many other seasons, the game could have a direct bearing on the Ivy championship results. "These are the two teams who usually finish one and two so to go into the game, both of us being undefeated it makes it all that much bigger," Onyekwe said. Penn and Princeton are currently in a first place tie with the surprising Brown team, which is 6-0 in Ivy League play. The historical dominance of the Ancient Eight by the Quakers and Tigers indicates that the victor should have a leg up in the title race. "We'd certainly like to play well, get off to a good start, and really set the tone for the rest of the season as well," Dunphy said. Despite Penn's clean sweep of its nemesis last season, an unexpected loss to Columbia ---- combined with losses to Yale and Harvard ---- forced the Quakers to make a late season run for their share of first place. "I don't want to be in a situation where players have to win and also rely on other teams losing," Onyekwe said. "That's a bad situation. We definitely want to be in control of our destiny." Princeton, who also claimed a share of last season's title, present an obvious obstacle in Penn's pursuit of its 21st championship. The Tigers (10-7, 4-0 Ivy) enter the game riding a six-game winning streak. Junior swingman Spencer Gloger -- who missed the last two seasons after transferring to UCLA and then returning -- leads the Tigers with 16.2 points per game. "Certainly he is their premier offensive player based on numbers and shots that he gets," Penn junior Jeff Schiffner said. "We're going to have to make sure that we keep a body on him and make sure that we limit his looks tomorrow." Gloger is the third-leading scorer in the Ivies, behind Brown's Earl Hunt and Harvard's Patrick Harvey. He also leads the Ivy league in three-point shots made and attempted. The talent on both sides indicates that the packed house at college basketball's most historic gym will be treated to a Penn-Princeton classic. Dunphy is obviously well aware of the type of game his team will play tonight at the Palestra. "I think this is going to be a hell of a contest."

Quakers win with and without Toole

(02/03/03 10:00am)

Many Penn fans showed up Friday night expecting the fabled 100-point Abners' cheesesteaks against a clearly outmatched Dartmouth basketball team. The Penn faithful chanted for them before a minute was played. One of the spectators of the 73-50 victory over the Big Green, however, was the Red and Blue's starting point guard Andrew Toole. The senior sprained his right ankle during Tuesday night's game against La Salle and was inactive due to the injury in Penn's Ivy League opener. The matchup against Harvard on Saturday was expected to be the more difficult of the weekend's games -- making the Dartmouth game a logical time to rest Toole for the Crimson. However, Penn coach Fran Dunphy emphasized that Toole was held out Friday because he was unable to play on the ankle, not because the coach expected to be able to defeat the Big Green without their starting point guard. "I think we needed him on both nights, but it just didn't work out well last night," Dunphy said. "He felt appreciably better than he did [Friday]." Toole showed few ill effects from the sprain against Harvard. He led all scorers with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He also sank two three-point baskets in four attempts. Toole's ankle held up for 34 minutes of playing time. He was the catalyst of the Quakers' attack, as he led the team with six assists. "That kid has worked real hard. He's a great competitor, and he wants to play," Dunphy said. "Andy played terrificly." Toole got off to a fast start after a sluggish offensive performance by both teams in the early minutes of the first half. Toole recorded 11 of the Red and Blue's first 21 points. His second three-pointer of the game stretched Penn's lead to 21-8. The starting guard's scoring wasn't as prolific in the second half, but his play was impressive nonetheless. Early in the second half, Toole drove from the baseline and bounced a cross-court pass to set up junior Jeff Schiffner's three-pointer. Following that, Toole ended up with a steal that led to a layup on the other end of the court. The senior guard torched the Crimson repeatedly-- driving around the Harvard defense for a layup, through the defense for a reverse layup, and over the defense for a shot-clock buzzer-beating jump shot. "He's one of the tough covers in the league from the perimeter," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. "Toole is one of the better guys in the league in terms of being able to knock you off balance with the dribble and we had a tough time adjusting to that." A starter before Toole transfered from Elon College, senior David Klatsky and junior Charlie Copp filled in for Toole against the Big Green. "We've played a lot without Andy in the last couple of seasons," Dunphy said. "He's an important part of what we do, and yet when he's not in there David and Charlie can do a very good job. And he did that tonight, I think." Copp received the starting nod at point guard and contributed a season-high six points and tied his season-high with six assists. Klatsky, the Quakers' sixth man, again proved that he can pick up the offensive slack when necessary. He tied Ugonna Onyekwe and Tim Begley for the game-high with 14 points and led the Quakers with five assists. "It's a nice security blanket, bringing David off the bench," Dunphy said. "David's used to doing that and he's good at it."

Toole questionable for Ivy openers

(01/31/03 10:00am)

Dartmouth and Harvard will step onto the Palestra court this weekend as Penn begins its defense of the Ivy League basketball title. And if opening the Ivy season was not already a large task, the Quakers (8-5, 0-0 Ivy) may have to endure its games without senior point guard Andrew Toole. Toole twisted his right ankle Tuesday night against La Salle and has been unable to practice since. "I don't really have any idea [if I will play] right now. We're going to wait to see what happens in the next 24 hours," Toole said. "I don't think the coaches or the trainers are going to let me out there if I'm going to injure myself further." Toole is currently second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game, but Penn has depth at the guard spot to fill in should Toole be unable to take the court. If a replacement is needed, senior guard David Klatsky ---- a former starter and the team's assist leader ---- will "probably" get the start according to Penn coach Fran Dunphy. "Hopefully he'll be able to play, but you never know," Dunphy said. "I didn't want to face it until the reality hits, but we prepare for that every day." Entering Ivy play last season, the Quakers owned a 9-3 record and was riding a three-game winning streak. On Tuesday, Penn beat La Salle to end their pre-Ivy slate and gain momentum for this year's opening weekend. The victory improved the Red and Blue's Big 5 record to 3-1 and, perhaps more critically, gave the Quakers a win after last weekend's home loss to St. Joseph's. "If we would have come in here down two games in a row going into the Ivies, it would be a lot tougher," Penn guard Tim Begley said. The momentum could be critical as the Quakers look to avenge last season's 78-75 opening weekend loss to Harvard. Last year, Penn stumbled out of the blocks on its way to a 2-3 Ivy record before rattling off ten consecutive league victories. "Falling behind was awful last year," Begley said. "Our backs were up against the wall every single night." Harvard (10-5, 2-0 Ivy) sits atop the Ivies after sweeping two games against Dartmouth. But when the Crimson take the hardwood against Princeton Friday, it will be their first game in 20 days because of finals break. In Harvard's last game, a 69-68 squeaker against Dartmouth, senior guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman became the Ivy League's all-time assists leader with 614. Last season, Harvard finished an even 7-7 in Ivy League play. "The seniors talk about how they struggle against Harvard every year, so we won't be going into that game lightly at all," Begley said. The Quakers will play host to last year's Ivy cellar dweller Dartmouth (4-11, 0-2 Ivy) on Friday night. Senior Charles Harris leads the Big Green averaging 14.1 points per game. With or without Toole, Dunphy believes that his players will be ready to begin their quest for another NCAA Tournament berth and to avoid last season's opening weekend loss. "They're a year older and a year more mature," Dunphy said. "Every game in our league is so critical. But I think these guys have a grasp of that, and they'll be ready to go."

Quakers turn around sloppy first half play

(01/29/03 10:00am)

The Palestra scoreboard operator wasn't very busy in the beginning of last night's basketball game. Baskets were scarce on both sides on the way to a 27-21 halftime score in favor of Penn. It took the Red and Blue 2:16 to sink the game's first bucket. In total, the Quakers shot only 8-for-24 before the break, including 4-for-15 from three-point range. Included in that streak was a field goal-less drought that lasted for more than seven minutes. Outside of guard Andrew Toole's three successful treys, Penn was only 1-for-12. The performance from behind the arc was well below Penn's 40.4-percent average entering the game. "We got shots, we just didn't make shots in the first half," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. The most ice cold of the Red and Blue was senior forward Koko Archibong, who was unsuccessful on all seven of his first half shots. Dunphy was visibly displeased by the early showing. At one point, he slammed the ball to the court a half-dozen times after errant passes. "I don't get to play very much," Dunphy said. "I was working on my dribbling. It was just a release of frustration." Ballhandling was an additional source of frustration in the early going with each team committing 11 turnovers in the sloppy first half. "I almost ripped [Toole's] face off at the end of the first half because he made some foolish decisions," Dunphy said. "He had four turnovers." The performance after halftime made the Quakers look like a different ---- and much more dominant -- offensive team. Penn showed a marked improvement in its execution, highlighted by only two second-half turnovers. The Quakers' usual three-point shooting touch also returned, as they buried six threes and nearly doubled their first half point production with 52. Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe was the backbone of the offensive blitz, and the recovery of Penn's three-point accuracy killed La Salle's early second-half surge. Penn guards Tim Begley and Jeff Schiffner buried threes on consecutive possessions to erase the Explorers' only two leads of the second half. The young La Salle team, which started four freshmen, could not overcome the hot shooting that ensued. "[Schiffner] had a couple big threes. The three-ball really hurt us in the second half," La Salle coach Billy Hahn said. Consecutive Schiffner threes ran the Red and Blue lead out to fourteen with 9:39 left, giving The Quakers all the breathing space they would need. Penn also took advantage of frequent trips to the free-throw line, with 29-for-35 shooting from the stripe. "You have to give Penn a lot of credit," Hahn said. "They know how to close out. They're veterans." Archibong, in particular, showed his veteran presence with a three, a windmill dunk and a blocked shot down the stretch for the Quakers.

Penn sneaks up on Trojans

(01/13/03 10:00am)

(See below for other Winter Break results) Inglewood, Calif. -- On Saturday, the Penn basketball team performed its own version of "Showtime" in the same arena that Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers called home. The Quakers (5-4) set a school record by shooting 72-percent (36-of-50) from the field on their way to a 99-61 rout over the University of Southern California Trojans at the Great Western Forum Saturday night. The crowd of 3,856 witnessed a three-point exhibition as the Red and Blue connected on 15-of-20 from behind the arc. "I don't think we are going to ever play against a team for the rest of my career that shoots it like that," USC coach Henry Bibby said. "I won't say this year. I said the rest of my career." Penn shot 88 percent (21-for-24) in the first half and scored on 11 straight offensive series. Perhaps even more amazingly, of Penn's 21 first-half field goals, 19 came off assists. The Quakers ended the half with a 28-5 run that put the game out of USC's reach before the intermission. Senior forward Koko Archibong paced all scorers with 21 points and also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. The game was a homecoming for Archibong, who played high school basketball in Southern California. The team enjoyed dinner at the Archibong household the night before the game. "A lot of family was here, a lot of people from my high school," Archibong said. "I had a lot of support." He received a standing ovation from the large turnout of Quakers fans when he exited the game. "I was happy for Koko," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "It was a nice homecoming for him." Junior guard Jeff Schiffner nailed all four of his three-point attempts for 12 points and added six assists. "Even the guys who came off the bench made threes," Bibby said. "It was really their night." Ugonna Onyekwe, the team's leading scorer, came off the bench for the second straight game. The senior forward netted 19 points in 21 minutes, including three dunks. Center Adam Chubb replaced Onyekwe in the starting lineup and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. The junior connected on a two-handed jam and an alley-oop from guard Andrew Toole. Chubb fouled out in only eight minutes of court time. For USC (6-5), the loss came three days after a dramatic 80-75 victory over cross-town Pac-10 rival UCLA. The Trojans traditionally do not schedule games for the weekend after the UCLA game. "I think it's tough for them too, with the big emotional win Wednesday [against UCLA] and they have [No. 2] Arizona coming up," Dunphy said. "I'm not sure it was the perfect timing for USC." USC sophomore forward Nick Curtis was the only player in double figures for the Trojans. The Trojans had troubles on both ends of the court, as the Red and Blue won convincingly for the first time outside of Philadelphia this season. The Quakers only previous road win was against Villanova at the First Union Center. USC's full-court press was consistently ineffective and the Trojans shot a team-low 30.8 percent from the field. "We didn't get any easy break points because they were making every shot," Bibby said. "They either got a dunk or an open jumper, and that's the way it was tonight." After an up-and-down Winter Break schedule, the Quakers appeared to finally put together the complete offensive game they had been awaiting all season. "[Penn] is a team that's going to break out and tonight they broke out," Bibby said. "They showed why they won their conference and why they went to the [NCAA] tournament."