By Dan Rubin
Providence, RI – It’s been a long five years Brown University’s women’s basketball team.
Ever since going 12-1 in Ivy League play in 2005-2006, earning a share of the league championship and just missing out on a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Brown Bears squad has struggled through some lean years. They slipped immediately from first to last in the Ancient Eight, finishing in that eighth slot for three consecutive years. Although last year, there was indeed a slight improvement to sixth offered encouragement.
But this year, the team entered the season with low expectations and no seniors on the roster. Employing seven freshmen on a team of 16 players, the team needed to mature on a trial by fire basis, using their youth and inexperience to their advantage in an effort to forget the rough patch the program endured.
In their first two games, they struggled, losing to Albany and Central Connecticut State as they tried to pick up head coach Jean Marie Burr’s motion offense. But, as they started to gel, the wins started to come. Along the way, they remained under .500 but gained a shocking win on home court against the Florida Gators. They nearly beat the URI Rams the next night as well, but they lost in double overtime. And Brown served notice that this Bears squad would be different.
But the doubts remained, and Brown entered the final weekend of the season in seventh place in the conference. However, they remained within striking distance of fourth place, needing to sweep the weekend while also getting help along the way. They also needed a sweep in order to obtain wins nine and ten, which would give them a double-digit W total for the first time since the Ivy League title year of ‘05-‘06.
On Friday night, Brown defeated Cornell, completing a season sweep of the Big Red for the second consecutive year. On the same night, Penn lost to Harvard, opening the door for Columbia to assume the fourth place position. When the Lions traveled to Providence on Saturday’s mild night, a Brown win would’ve placed the Bears into that fourth slot. Although they would have the same league record and a season split, Brown had the higher win total on the year, earning them the tiebreaker and resurrecting the program.
But the two teams opened up Saturday night’s game completely flat, and at the first media timeout with under 16 minutes left in the first half; the score was tied at 4-4. Four minutes later, Taylor Ward hit a three for Columbia that gave them an early lead, a lead that raised to eight by the halfway point of the first half.
Brown then went on a tear, paced by junior Aileen Daniels. Daniels hit a three with 9:44 to go, and it sparked a 10-0 and 11-2 run for Bruno that gave them a dominant lead. Kathleen Barry broke a Brown man-to-man defense with four points of her own, and Columbia tied a four-point deficit late. But junior Hannah Passafuime drained a three of her own, giving the Bears a 25-22 lead at the half.
The two squads traded threes to open up the second frame before freshman Lauren Clarke helped pace the Bears to a 10-point lead. Columbia tried to close the gap late in the second half and did so to four, but Passafuime and Clarke slammed the door with free throws late as Brown went on to win, 65-55.
“Tonight, we just looked like one,” said Coach Burr after the game. “It was great to see the team come together. We didn’t do the things we needed to do to beat Columbia earlier in the season, and tonight we came out and played strong and hard. To keep any Division I team under 60 points is tough, so it’s a real credit to our team defensively.”
The Bears finished the season at [10-18, 6-8] in Ivy play. As there is no postseason tournament, this past weekend served only as a launching pad towards the offseason and next year with a chance to close out on a high note. With Princeton locking up the Ivy title, it remained only the chance to finish strong and continue building for the future.
“We have three juniors, four sophomores, and seven freshmen this year,” said Burr. “With all of them back, I think the system will be stronger. We’re playing good motion offense which takes some time to learn. Our goal for next year is to start playing up-tempo game, start getting more numbers. I think we can do it with the people we have coming back, and some of the people coming in.”
Brown also finished the year with multiple players averaging double-digit points per game. Dixon finished over 11 points per game on the season, including her 17 (along with six rebounds) on Friday. Passafuime and Clarke both averaged ten apiece in a season where Brown consistently went toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s elite.
Passafuime and Daniels will return for their senior season next year with a chance to raise one to the rafters for the first time in five years. “Hannah has such a high basketball IQ,” said Burr, “and Aileen plays sometimes like she’s 6-3. She’s only 5-10, but she’s been our inside presence. She matches up with the big player and she’s able to shut them down.”
For Brown, the 2011-2012 season has already begun. “Our ability to run the floor is a testament to our players and our captains,” said Burr. “Right when they got to campus, Aileen Daniels and Hannah Passafuime set some standards and set some goals with what we do in the weight room and on the track. They got this team to look forward to those sessions, and this team really enjoys working out and playing basketball.”