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Penn falls to California, 82-75

(03/15/02 10:00am)

PITTSBURGH - The Penn men's basketball bowed out of the NCAA tournament Friday afternoon, losing to a bigger and stronger California squad, 82-75. The Quakers hung with the Golden Bears early in the first half thanks to five three-pointers in the opening eight minutes, including three from swingman Jeff Schiffner. But a 10-0 Cal run turned the Golden Bears' four-point deficit into a six-point lead. Cal would never trail again. At the end of the first half, the Quakers had the ball and a chance to cut Cal's lead to four. However, Cal's A.J. Diggs stole the ball from Penn backup point guard David Klatsky at the top of the key, dribbled the length of the floor and laid the ball in as time expired. "That was a huge play that gave us momentum and distanced us," California head coach Ben Braun said. "There's a big difference between a six-point lead and an eight-point lead. It made the climb for Penn a little bid harder." Also making the climb difficult was that many of Penn's impact players were hampered with foul trouble. Four of Penn's five starters had at least two fouls in the first half, with point guard Andrew Toole the lone exception. Ivy League Player of the Year Ugonna Onyekwe played just 13 minutes and attempted just two shots in the first half due to his two early fouls. "We needed `U' on the floor more than he was," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. Onyekwe and Koko Archibong, Penn's top two inside threats, had difficulty controlling the paint because of California's size. Each forward went for 16 points, but Archibong shot just 5-of-17 - 1-of-9 in the first half - and at one point was blocked twice in one possession. Jamal Sampson and Solomon Hughes, Cal's 6-foot-11 monsters, each blocked three shots apiece. Onyekwe and Archibong "are two of the most active post players we've seen all year long - they're dynamite players," Braun said. "Our post guys took away their inside position and tried to bring them out to the perimeter and limit their touches. [But] they both found a way to combine for double figures. With great players, you have to hold them to their average and you're O.K." While Solomon and Hughes were able to contain Penn's scorers, the Quakers had trouble finding like answers for Cal guard Joe Shipp or forward Bryan Wethers. Shipp led all scorers with 20 points, and Wethers was second with 19. "It was difficult when Shipp and Wethers posted up inside," Toole said. "They have a little size and we had to double up on their shooters, so that made it tough inside." Shipp, for his part, had the game's most exciting play, and perhaps Cal's biggest bucket. With the Bears up 11, Shipp took a pass from A.J. Diggs in transition, elevated and slammed home a thunderous, one-handed dunk over Archibong. The Penn forward tried to take a charge, but he was too far under the basket and ended up flat on his back, with Shipp standing over him. "It was a pretty big play but it was only worth two points," Toole said. True, but Shipp's other basket was worth three points, and probably did more in helping the Bears fend off the Quakers. The Quakers were down six, 65-59, and had just pressured Cal into taking a timeout with six seconds left on the shot clock. Taking the inbounds pass, Shipp fired from at least 25 feet, draining the shot and effectively ending the Quakers upset dreams.

M. Hoops to face California in first round of NCAA Tournament

(03/10/02 10:00am)

After 24 minutes of anxious waiting and tension Sunday evening, the Penn men's basketball learned its NCAA fate. The Selection Committee handed the Quakers a No. 11 seed in the South region, pitting them against No. 6 seed California in the first round. In a concerted effort by the NCAA to keep teams close to home, Penn will remain in state, playing at the Mellon Center in Pittsburgh Friday night. The game will start 30 minutes following the conclusion of the Pittsburgh-Central Connecticut State game, which begins at 12:25 p.m.

Dave Zeitlin: Hard work, courage and heart

(03/09/02 10:00am)

EASTON, Pa. -- One month ago, I saw the Penn men's basketball team, and I saw failure. The Quakers had just lost to Yale in New Haven, Conn., and they looked tired, beleaguered and without vigor. Saturday night -- 29 days later -- I saw heart, pure emotion and an undying camaraderie. As time expired in Saturday night's Penn-Yale game, Quakers' fan-favorite Dan Solomito heaved the ball high in the air towards the overhead scoreboard at Lafayette's Kirby Sports Center. When the ball crashed down to the floor, Penn had finally completed its slow, uphill climb to the top. It was a bleak Friday night in New Haven when Penn dropped to 2-3 in league play, but on Saturday the Quakers proved they were the best the Ivy League had to offer with an easy 77-58 victory over the Elis. "It just showed a lot of our character. After that Yale loss, we knew we had to pretty much win out to force a playoff," a giddy Andrew Toole said in the post-game press conference. "It took a lot of hard work, a lot of heart, a lot of courage... it speaks volumes about our team." It certainly took hard work. The Quakers reeled off ten straight wins, and each of them came in a must-win scenario. How hard does a team have to work to go from the bottom of the Ivy League barrel to the Big Dance? Let's talk about heart. In four years at Penn, senior Dan Solomito has rarely seen a meaningful minute. But at the conclusion of Saturday's game, you couldn't find a happier person in that gym. Through a mass of ecstatic Red and Blue supporters, Solomito gathered his team by the foul line for Penn's traditional pre-game ritual of hopping and singing -- this time with a little more emphasis. A few minutes later, the senior cut the final piece of net and climbed up on the rim, the net hanging from his neck. He yelled and cheered and celebrated as teammates, fans and photographers swarmed below. Solomito was on top of the world. How's this for courage? With just under seven minutes left in the game and Penn holding a comfortable 20-point lead, Jeff Schiffner got tangled up with Elis center T.J. McHugh going for a rebound. Bodies collided and Schiffner ended up crumpled on the floor with a bloodied eye. Dunphy and the trainer rushed out to their swingman's side, and led him to the safety of the bench. Moments later, the predominantly-Penn crowd erupted as Schiffner pumped his fist toward the stands. He was bloodied and bandaged, but his heart was fine. Hard work, courage and heart -- surely the deciding factors for a team with 25 wins, a Big 5 title, an Ivy League championship and an upcoming appearance in the NCAA tournament. When I saw the Quakers celebrating at Kirby, I didn't see last year's woeful, non-cohesive unit. I didn't see the team that collapsed against Davidson and Columbia this season. I didn't even see the team that sleepwalked to less-than-pretty victories over Delaware and Lafayette. I saw a team that never gave up. I saw a team that had the resolve to go on a timely 10-game winning streak to save a season that could have so easily failed. I saw a team filled with talent and guts. I saw a jubilant bunch of men who deserve to keep this 2001-02 season alive. I saw true champions.