Penn, Princeton will be tough
The Ithaca Journal
Friday night, the Big Red (10-12 overall, 5-3 league) takes on the Quakers at the historic Palestra. Saturday, CU invades Jadwin Gym to meet the defending league champion Tigers; both games will tip at 7 p.m.
The Big Red is 1-10 away from Newman Arena but has lost just one of those games by double digits. But Cornell is playing its best ball of the winter, having won three straight on its way up to fourth place in the league, just a game out of second.
"The goal is to win every single game on the schedule," junior guard Johnathan Gray said. "That's what we want to do and that's what coach has been telling us. We want to take every single game with the same mentality that we (had) last weekend. Play aggressive, play loose, play free and play for each other."
Gray established himself as one of this season's top surprises in last weekend's home sweep, averaging 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, including a career-high 29 points in the 85-84 overtime defeat of Yale. The following night, the former walk-on posted his sixth consecutive double figure game with 16 points and nine rebounds in a 72-63 win.
Courtney credits Gray's emergence to "being in the gym more and becoming a student of the game," revealing that prior to his recent scoring streak the junior swingman had been demoted to the "second unit" in practice after a slow start.
"He really responded the right way to that," Courtney said. "He picked up his game and earned his way back into the rotation and eventually back into the starting lineup. In practice he's really made a conscious effort to make the right play.
"We kind of told him not to pass so much," the coach said. "He tends to make some mistakes when he's passing. When he's being aggressive and in an aggressive mindset he's much better."
Senior co-captain Chris Wroblewski has also been brilliant of late, earning Ivy League Player of the Week honors after averaging 16.5 points, 9 assists and 6.5 rebounds last weekend to put his early-season shooting slump well behind him.
"I think we got off to a bad start, and it was just bad matchups for him from the beginning," Courtney said. "We played St. Bonaventure and Buffalo, who both had big, athletic guards he struggled with. Once he got off to a rough start, it kind of snowballed a little bit and he may have put a bit of pressure on himself. But at no point did our coaches think he wasn't going to break out of it, and now he's playing phenomenal basketball."
Friday night, Wroblewski and the Big Red will be looking to avenge a 64-52 home loss to Penn (13-11, 5-2) on Jan. 14. Cornell hit just 3 of 17 from beyond the arc in that game -- the first Quaker win in Ithaca in four years.
Courtney will hope to find a way to contain Penn's Ivy League Player of the Year candidate, senior Zack Rosen, who collected 18 points, five assists and five steals in the first meeting. Rosen, who leads the conference in both scoring (18.0 points per game) and assists (5.8), hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left in a 58-55 victory over Dartmouth on Saturday.
On Saturday Cornell will try to go 2-for-2 against Princeton (13-10, 4-3), which the Red defeated, 67-59, in the conference opener. Freshman Galal Cancer scored 17 points in leading an effective four-guard lineup employed by Courtney, while classmate Shonn Miller showed early signs of becoming one of the brightest rookies in the conference with 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
CU men's basketball
Record: 10-12 overall, 5-3 Ivy League
Friday night: Cornell at Pennsylvania (13-11, 5-2)
Where: The Palestra (8,722), Philadelphia
Saturday's game: Cornell at Princeton (13-10, 4-2)
Where: Jadwin Gym (6,854), Princeton, N.J.
When: 7 p.m., both games
Radio: WXYL-HD2 (103.3)