Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell at VCU Tournament

By Brian Delaney
Ithaca Journal
December 29, 2010

Errick Peck just wants to see Cornell's best basketball players play well at the same time. For now, forget the Ivy League schedule and title defenses. What the Big Red needs is one consistent effort that results in a confidence-building victory.

"The biggest thing for us is we played really well at Minnesota," said Peck, referring to a 71-66 defeat to the No. 15 Golden Gophers on Dec. 4. "We played as a whole unit, and it seems like the last few games we had a couple players who wouldn't show up or a couple players who played bad and didn't play up to their potential.

"So we got to just put things together. It seems like when I'm struggling, then (Chris Wroblewski) will be on. When I'm on, then (Wroblewski) will be off. We just have to get everything together as one group."

Cornell (2-8) can end its seven-game losing streak, the program's longest since a nine-game skid that spanned the end of the 2000-01 and beginning of 01-02 seasons, at 5 p.m. Wednesday. The Big Red will play New Hampshire (5-5) at Virginia Commonwealth University's holiday tournament in Richmond, Va. Host VCU (7-4) and Wofford (5-6) play in the nightcap.

"It's a very important game for us," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "Just to try and win a basketball game is very important so that we don't lose confidence in ourselves. Nothing takes the place of winning, and once you start losing, it kind of feeds into itself. Self doubt. I don't think we have that yet, but you can see it coming if we don't find a way to win some of these games."

Courtney held a 10:30 p.m. practice on Christmas Day, and followed with a double-session on Sunday. The team left for Virginia on Monday morning, and has four non-league games remaining to learn how to win again. Depending upon Wednesday's results, Cornell will play either Wofford or VCU on Thursday.

In the current skid, five of Cornell's losses have been decided by five points or fewer.

"We were able to establish a winning culture last year," Peck said. "Now, it's like, 'We just need to get a win.' We're pressing a little bit. If we just play, we'll be fine."

Peck understands the need for consistency. In his first four games this year, he struggled offensively and with foul trouble, and his confidence waned. But since a resurgent effort against Syracuse on Nov. 30, he's averaged 15.8 points per game and played at a high level. He scored a career-best 21 in a Dec. 20 home loss to Bucknell.

But while Peck has improved, Wroblewski has struggled. The junior captain is shooting under 30 percent in his last five games. Against Bucknell, Drew Ferry didn't shoot well. Senior Aaron Osgood is about 75 percent healed -- a Courtney estimate -- from an MCL injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day. And Courtney's rotation has changed on a game-by-game basis, as the first-year coach looks for successful combinations.

Osgood said some added confidence would be "a huge thing for us.

"I can't remember the last time I lost seven games in a row," he said. "Nobody really has. It definitely wears on you."

Pre-VCU tournament notes on Cornell

It probably wasn't a situation in which Cornell players were thrilled to be practicing at 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Day, but the schedule wasn't punishment for a seven-game losing streak.

"Definitely not to make a point," coach Bill Courtney said. "We took off essentially four days and if you look at December with finals and all that kind of stuff, you're talking about another seven days. So essentially you're talking about 11 days in the month of December, so we needed to get at least two practices in before we got on the bus, to work on Cornell. Then when we get down to VCU we can worry about our opponents. We needed two at a minimum, and believe me, I think we needed about 10. If I could have gotten 10 in these days, I would have. But we got two in because we needed to sharpen ourselves up a little bit. Regain some focus on what we're trying to accomplish, so we had to get back here to get those practices in."

Seven straight losses is something Cornell fans haven't seen since the end of the 2000-01 season and the beginning of the 2001-02 season. Cornell lost the final four games of 00-01, and the first five of 01-02. Courtney praised the players, specifically the upperclassmen, for dealing with the losses without turning against each other.

"They've handled it well from my vantage point," Courtney said. "They come to practice every day wanting to practice. I think they're still such a tight team, I don't think anybody's turned against each other. I think they still believe in what we're doing, and if we do those things, we'll be good. We can show it on the tape and say, if we had done this, we would have won the game. We talked about this. That makes it easier to keep the faith in what we're trying to accomplish.
"It's a good group of kids," he added. "The leadership of those (older) guys is tremendous."

Errick Peck reflected on the team's desperation for a win.

"We just have to come to play," he said. "We've been getting pretty much killed in practice. We've had essentially three practices in 24 hours, so to get the monkey off our back and get coach off our back too and win some games, that's what we need."

On a lighter note...

After the Bucknell game, the players had off from Dec. 21 and had to get back to town on the 25th. Aaron Osgood went to New York City with his family (his parents, from Seattle, attended the Bucknell game), and met up with his sister, a student at Columbia.

"We went and saw the big tree," Osgood said. "Tried to get a family picture at the tree. ... It took us like 10 tries to try and get a good family shot, but we got one."

"We went to Little Italy for Christmas dinner. It was very nice. I finished my meal, then I finished my mom's meal. It was very nice."

Osgood is about 75 percent back from a knee injury suffered in a practice on Thanksgiving Day. He had a very good stretch against Bucknell, when he scored, took a couple charges and gave Cornell a spark after a long Bucknell run.

"He's certainly making progress," Courtney said. "Last week we played him probably a little bit too much, too early. He looks better in practice the last couple days, and I'd say he's about 75 percent."

Courtney on New Hampshire, Cornell's opponent at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Richmond, Va.:

"They play really hard," he said. "They're very-well coached. Coach Herrion does a good job. They're smart. They shoot the ball fairly well. They do a lot of things. They're not going to beat themselves. They're going to make you earn everything you get. I think their toughness is probably their best quality."

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