College Basketball Nation: 032110 Wisconsin-Cornell

Red-hot Big Red keeps on rolling

March, 21, 2010
3/21/10
7:02
PM ET
Kim Klement/US PresswireLouis Dale's 26 points keyed a Big Red attack Sunday that tore up what had been a stingy Wisconsin defense.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As he headed back to his jubilant locker room, Cornell point guard Louis Dale stopped to sign a hat from a fan. It was a University of Alabama cap, sure, but at least it had the right red-and-white colors, and Alabama is Dale's home state.

Then another fan dropped a hat for Dale to sign. This one was blue.

"A Kentucky hat?" Dale said, incredulously eyeing the UK logo before throwing the hat back into the stands. "You've got to be kidding me. Get that out of here."

We are not kidding about this: Kentucky had better watch out for Cornell in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. After the way the 12th-seeded Big Red played this weekend in Jacksonville -- especially in Sunday's 87-69 dismantling of Wisconsin -- they must be considered as much of a threat as anyone left in the NCAA Tournament.

Temple and Wisconsin owned two of the best defenses in the country this season, according to the stats. Yet here is what Cornell did to those defenses: shot a combined 58.8 percent from the floor and 44.7 percent on three-pointers while averaging 82.5 points.

Wisconsin had allowed 70 points only three times all year, two of those coming in overtime games. Yet Bo Ryan's defense got sliced like a machete through warm gouda. Cornell shot 61.1 percent, the highest percentage by any team against the Badgers in the Ryan era.

"In our half-court defense, we thought we did some pretty good things," Ryan said. "But that's how good they are. ... I'm not sure if three or four days' [preparation] would have stopped what they do, because they just do it well."

When you think of Ivy League teams, you probably envision those old Princeton teams that worked the ball around, running backdoor screen after backdoor screen. But Cornell is far more diverse than that.

Yes, it can make a back cut with the best of them. But against Wisconsin, the Big Red scored on give-and-gos, alley oops, tear-drop floaters and in transition. Ryan Wittman (24 points) can create his own shot at 6-foot-7, and Dale (26 points) can get in the lane against anybody, as he proved repeatedly against the Badgers' all-Big Ten defensive team performer Trevon Hughes. Then there's seven-footer Jeff Foote, who eats up space on screens and is a deft passer.

"We have a lot of players who can score in a variety of ways," Foote said. "Ryan and Louis did their thing today, and when they do that, we're tough to stop."

Foote predicted at the start of the season that his team would make the Sweet 16, and Cornell became the first Ivy League school since Penn made the Final Four in 1979 to advance to the second weekend. No one on the team seems all that surprised by the development.

"It really doesn't matter who we're playing," forward Jon Jacques said. "We're confident in ourselves. Our confidence is definitely growing each game."

So is their goofiness. The players have been joking around all weekend, displaying the comfort of a group making its third straight trip to March Madness. The team watched "Friday Night Lights" on Saturday night and told Dale he had to work a quote from the movie into his postgame press conference. Dale pulled it off, while his teammates erupted with laughter while watching him on a TV in the locker room.

Does that kind of stuff happen a lot?

"Well, we don't usually have many press conferences," Dale said.

Coach Steve Donahue said his team likes to have fun but knows when to get serious. It showed in their preparations this weekend, as they got off to strong starts in both games and trailed for a total of 2:43, all at the beginning in the Temple game. Donahue called Cornell's offensive execution against Wisconsin the best he'd ever seen as a coach.

Next comes perhaps the biggest David vs. Goliath matchup in the history of the Sweet 16: Cornell against top-seeded Kentucky. A program whose first two NCAA Tournament wins came this weekend vs. one with seven NCAA titles. A school that doesn't give athletic scholarships vs. one that has four likely lottery picks. Unrecruited seniors vs. blue-chip freshmen. Big Red vs. Big Blue.

And it will take place in Syracuse, N.Y., about 55 miles from Cornell's campus.

"It's an amazing story, " said Mark Coury, who started 29 games at Kentucky before transferring to Cornell, where he comes off the bench. "We won our last two games by a lot of points, but obviously Kentucky is a whole different level. But if we run our offense efficiently and play good defense, I think we'll have a chance."

Kentucky had better be prepared. Or else the Wildcats will become the latest team to have their hats handed to them by Cornell.

Final: Cornell 87, Wisconsin 69

March, 21, 2010
3/21/10
4:53
PM ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Brain Train keeps chugging along.

Cornell didn't just win two games here in Jacksonville this weekend; it dominated them both. After a 13-point win over Temple on Friday, the 12th-seeded Ivy Leaguers destroyed No. 4 seed Wisconsin 87-69 Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

Cornell scored the first eight points, led by 12 at halftime and blew the doors open early in the second half. The Big Red scored more points against Wisconsin in regulation than any of the Badgers' opponents this year. They shot a sizzling 61 percent and probably could have scored 100 had they not called off the dogs late in the game.

Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale each had 24 points, while Jeff Foote and Chris Wroblewski added 12 each.

The Badgers looked dazed and confused throughout the second half, as if they couldn't believe anyone, let alone an Ivy League school, could so thoroughly dissect their defense like that. Bo Ryan even earned a technical foul during the half.

Like most people, I expected the Big Red to be good. But the level of their performance this weekend was simply astounding, and it's not crazy to suggest that they can beat No. 1 seed Kentucky in the next round.

If they play the way they did in Jacksonville this weekend, the Brain Train is going to be tough for anyone to stop.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick impressions of the first half here at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where 12th-seeded Cornell leads No. 4 Wisconsin, 43-31:

  • Can't say this result is all that surprising, since Cornell was the most impressive team here Friday outside of maybe Duke. After shooting 57 percent in a first-round win over Temple, the Big Red connected on 59.3 percent in the first half against Wisconsin. This is a Badgers team that only allows 56 points per game, and Cornell is 13 points away from that figure already. The reason? Steve Donahue's team runs crisp, offensive sets, and his guys just don't miss open looks. The Big Red also look like the quicker and more athletic team, and they've hustled to keep many balls alive. Emblematic of that was a play late in the half, when Jeff Foote tipped out an offensive rebound to Chris Wroblewski, who drained a three from the top of the key. Cornell has scored 21 points off turnovers or offensive rebounds, or almost half its points so far.
  • Jon Leuer scored Wisconsin's first 12 points, and for a while it looked like he might have to carry the entire load. But Jason Bohannon chipped in seven first-half points, breaking out of a prolonged shooting slump. When he hit his first three-pointer, the Badgers fan section erupted. They know how important he is to this team as a bona fide third scoring option behind Leuer and Trevon Hughes.
  • Hughes, though, has struggled. He has five points but also five turnovers. Wisconsin as a team had only four turnovers against Wofford on Friday. Louis Dale has done a great job of slowing down Hughes's penetration, and Dale has scored eight points on the other end.
  • Like they did against Temple, the Big Red aren't getting a ton of stops, as Wisconsin shot 52.2 percent in the half. But as long as they keep making the Badgers have to score every time down to keep pace, they'll be just fine. Bo Ryan needs his team to get back to its patented suffocating defense in the second half to make a rally.

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