Friday, February 3, 2012

ESPN Boston Previews Cornell at Harvard

Get all the information you need about the Cornell Big Red's games at Harvard (Friday, February 3, 7 pm) and Dartmouth (Saturday, February 4, 7 pm) with The Cornell Basketball Blog's Game Preview Center.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- There’s nothing better than winning on the road. Except maybe winning on the road in conference play.

That’s a sentiment Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has repeated to his No. 23 Crimson more than once. With three of their first four Ivy League matchups taking place away from the comforts of Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson coach got good use of it early.

And after a successful first Ivy back-to-back, with wins at Yale and at Brown, for the moment it no longer applies.

Harvard will host Cornell on Friday and Columbia on Saturday in Week 13 of the college basketball season.

So, will the new reminder be something along the lines of “There’s no place like home?”

Not exactly.

“Being at home, it’s great,” Amaker said before practice Monday. “The [trap in] that is that you fall into thinking that just because you’re at home, things are supposed to go well. And that’s what we’ll have to guard against this week, going into this weekend’s games.

“We have to still do what we’re supposed to do, prepare the way we’re supposed to prepare, not feel like just because we’re home … all of a sudden it’s supposed to happen a certain way.”

The Crimson (18-2, 4-0) can’t get too comfortable, even though they’re enjoying the comforts of home for the first time in a long time. To date, only six of their 20 games have been at Lavietes.

“We have to do our part and make sure that we’re focused, that we’re prepared, that we’re gonna stay true to our identity,” Amaker said.

That identity is tied tightly to defense. After smothering Yale this past Friday, allowing the Bulldogs just 35 points -- their lowest point total in more than a decade -- Harvard sits third in the country in scoring defense. The Crimson allow opponents to score an average of 53.4 points a game, behind only Wisconsin (49.6) and Virginia (50.6).

Yale hadn’t scored fewer than 62 points all season, and is leading the Ancient Eight in scoring average at 72.4.

Cornell comes to Cambridge averaging 65.7 points per game, a hair behind Harvard’s 65.8. Columbia’s a point behind Cornell, averaging 64.7 entering the weekend.

The Big Red are led by senior Drew Ferry, the team’s leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, and Chris Wroblewski, the team’s playmaker whose average of 5.4 assists per game is third in the Ivy League.

Cornell (7-11, 2-2) beat Boston University at home earlier this season, and nearly beat then-No. 24 Illinois on the road in December.

“They’re better than their record,” Amaker said of the Big Red. “This is a team that has played some really good basketball and has come up -- unfortunately from their perspective -- short in a number of games.

“We respect them. They’re gonna play really hard.”

Columbia (12-8, 1-3) lost Noruwa Agho to a knee injury after just two games this season. In Agho’s absence, Brian Barbour is leading the team with 15.6 points per game, and big man Mark Cisco leads the Ivy League in field goal percentage at 60.3.

Lavietes is sold out for this weekend’s games. In fact, it’s sold out for the rest of the season.

But Amaker is determined to prevent complacency from setting in, even with the comforts and -- they hope -- advantages of playing at home in front of a packed house.

There may be nothing better than a road conference win, except if the next date on the schedule is a home conference game. Then there’s nothing better than a home conference win.

So Amaker will try to keep his team true to its identity, in order to keep the six-game winning streak going and push the 23-game home win streak higher and higher.

“If we can defend them we’ll be OK,” he said, “but if they can get going with some shot-making -- as we know in any game of basketball -- it can be interesting.”

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