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Big Green Basketball Tries to Put Puzzle Together

Dartmouth College's Kamala Thompson drives to the basket Tuesday against Bryant's Meredith Soper at Leede Arena. The Big Green's 79-69 loss was its sixth consecutive setback. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College's Kamala Thompson drives to the basket Tuesday against Bryant's Meredith Soper at Leede Arena. The Big Green's 79-69 loss was its sixth consecutive setback. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — The Dartmouth College women’s basketball team lost its sixth consecutive game Tuesday, falling 79-69 to visiting Bryant in a nonconference contest at Leede Arena. The Big Green’s lineup, decimated by injuries, reminded rookie coach Belle Koclanes of a jigsaw puzzle she undertook Saturday after her team lost by 17 points to visiting New Hampshire.

The 500-piece picture of a well-stocked bookcase kept Koclanes’ mind occupied and didn’t allow her to obsess about a season that, on paper, bears a striking resemblance to Dartmouth’s past two campaigns. Both of those ended in 6-22 records and led to the resignation of longtime bench boss Chris Wielgus.

“I just wanted to rest my mind,” Koclanes said. “You start a puzzle with the frame, which is the foundation and has to hold the rest of the pieces. It’s a great metaphor for what I get to do in my life as a head coach. I love the challenge of putting this team together.”

At the moment, however, Dartmouth’s puzzle is missing numerous pieces. The five injured players sitting on the bench in warmup suits Tuesday — guards Nicola Zimmer and Kasey Crockett, center Tia Dawson and forwards Milica Toskovic and Lauren Taiclet — is at least as talented as the Big Green’s actual starting lineup against the Bulldogs (3-6). Toss in a mid-game ankle injury to leading rebounder Kamala Thompson and the training room is filling up fast.

“Ask anyone who’s done a puzzle, pieces always fall on the floor or they’re not where you look for them,” Koclanes said. “We’re trying to put different pieces together to get some victories ... but a lot of our players are young and inexperienced.”

Dartmouth led 34-33 at halftime, buoyed by 6-of-9 field-goal shooting from freshman guard Fanni Szabo. However, the Hungarian made only 3 of 10 shots from the floor after intermission and missed all four 3-point shots she attempted during the second half. Sophomore forward Lakin Roland went the other way, putting up just two points in the first half and 11 in the second, but she committed her third foul seconds after halftime, a problem that’s plagued her all season.

Szabo played 40 minutes and finished with 23 points, the fifth time this season she’s scored 20 or more. Sophomore forward Abbey Schmitt had 10 points and guard Katie Vereika added nine, all on shots from behind the arc. However, the freshman made only 3 of 8 attempts from that distance and didn’t try any 2-pointers.

Bryant held a 39-25 rebounding edge and made 63 percent of its field-goal attempts during the second half and 53 percent during the game, but committed 21 turnovers. The Bulldogs outscored their hosts, 47-32, in the paint, and 20-6 on fast-break chances.

Koclanes said she’s trying to change the culture on her team, from working hard enough to get by to working hard enough to win consistently. The fall term ended late last month and her troops are on campus for no other reason than basketball, but open gym times the past few days drew not a single player.

“Lots of teams talk about wanting to be good, but they don’t get it,” the coach said, adding that she’s been pleased with recent practices. “Other teams have a whole (different) level of wanting it. They’re in the gym and working on their game whenever they have a free minute, reaching out to coaches to watch film, all those things. We’re still working on that commitment level.”

Koclanes said her squad needs to improve its passing, ball-handling and offensive decision-making and said defensive positioning is also a concern. Dartmouth (1-7) played a zone Tuesday and still allowed Bryant to post its second-highest number of points this season.

“How many offensive rebounds did we give them tonight?” Koclanes asked rhetorically, referring to the Bulldogs’ 17 boards while on the attack. “Boxing out is a fundamental skill we need to improve upon. Getting better doesn’t happen overnight. You have to put time and sweat in and dig deeper than you’ve ever dug to get out of the hole.”

Notes: Zimmer (mononucleosis) and Dawson (concussion) could return to action during next week’s games in Chicago against DePaul and Loyola. Sophomore center Daisy Jordan, coming off a knee injury, could return this month as well, but Toskovic, who has started all six games she’s played and is averaging 6.8 points per contest, is out indefinitely with her own case of mononucleosis. … Asked when freshman guard Moriah Morton, one of only two healthy players yet to see action, might get into a game, Koclanes said the Lebanon High product “is still preparing and her skills still need to improve. The decisions on who to play happen in practice and right now, Mo has a few guards ahead of her.”… Told her injured team resembles a M*A*S*H. unit, Koclanes, 33, looked puzzled, then asked if it was a reference to a television show. It was indeed, one about a U.S. military hospital unit during the Korean War and which aired from 1972-83. Its final episode was the most-watched television episode in history to that point, drawing 125 million viewers. … The University of Massachusetts women’s basketball team, where Wielgus is now director of operations, has started 2-7 and plays in Dartmouth’s holiday tournament later this month. Wielgus is not expected to attend that event.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.