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Big Green Hopes the Worst Is Finally Over

Yale's Alex Osborn-Jones looks to pass Saturday while Dartmouth defenders Eve Zelinger, top, and Daisy Jordan, right, attempt to cut her off during the Ivy League teams' season finale at Leede Arena. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Yale's Alex Osborn-Jones looks to pass Saturday while Dartmouth defenders Eve Zelinger, top, and Daisy Jordan, right, attempt to cut her off during the Ivy League teams' season finale at Leede Arena. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — In statistical terms, one of the worst seasons in the history of Dartmouth College women’s basketball ground to a halt Saturday with a 57-41 loss to Yale. The result left the Big Green 5-23 overall and 2-12 in Ivy League play after its two previous campaigns ended in 6-22 overall marks and Ancient Eight records of 3-11 and 4-12.

This 2013-14 team’s .217 winning percentage is the program’s lowest since league play began in the winter of 1976-77, but first-year coach Belle Koclanes isn’t much interested in such numbers.

“There’s been tremendous growth that doesn’t show up on a stat sheet or in the win-loss columns,” Koclanes said. “But we knew that from the beginning and our focus this first year was to improve and lay the foundation for our culture.”

Asked what she would say to those who believe the Big Green program has never been at a lower point, Koclanes reiterated her thinking.

“We understand the reality of the situation we’re in, but we focus on improvement and possibility,” she said. “Take away the stat sheet and it’s clear we’re competing at a higher level.

“It takes time to build, but next season we’re going to be a better basketball team than we were this season and the season after that, we’ll be better again.”

Dartmouth was led in scoring Saturday by senior point guard and co-captain Nicola Zimmer, who had 15 points. Sophomore forward Lakin Roland and freshman guard Fanni Szabo each had nine points. Junior forward Milica Toskovic had nine rebounds and sophomore forward Abbey Schmitt had eight.

The Big Green tied its season high with 24 turnovers, a performance that equaled its number against three previous foes this winter. Roland, Zimmer and Daisy Jordan committed five each. Yale (13-15, 7-7) held a 23-0 advantage in scoring off turnovers, a 12-5 lead in second-chance points and a 20-8 lead in scoring from the paint.

Szabo made 3-of-14 field-goal attempts, but after starting the season’s first 26 games, didn’t do so for a second consecutive night. The Hungarian averaged 19.7 points during her first six college games, but saw her scoring average finish at 13.2 per contest.

“I always say it’s not how many points you score, but what the team needs you to do,” Szabo said. “By the end of the season, the team needed less points from me; they were all distributed throughout the team. Playing good doesn’t depend on how many points you score.”

Koclanes said Szabo was asked to shoulder more of the scoring early when Zimmer and Toskovic were out because of illness. She added that the freshman’s drop-off could also be attributed to teams’ increasing defensive focus on her and the gradual strain of a freshman year abroad. Finally, there was the coach’s increased demand that Szabo earn her offensive chances by improving her less-than-stellar defense.

“Fanni scored a lot of points before anyone really knew about her,” the coach said. “She got a ton of looks but some of them were then taken away, and when Nicola got back on the floor, her role changed. There was an ebb and flow to her season, but that’s to be expected.”

Roland made impressive improvement and finished as the team’s second-leading scorer by averaging 11 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. However, she was also in frequent foul trouble and had to come out of Saturday’s game early after being whistled twice for offensive penalties.

“She’s by far our most improved player,” Koclanes said. “She has to gain discipline and maturity and having a feel for the game. You have to understand the time and place (for aggressive play), but Lakin got a ton of experience this year and she’s going to be so much better next season with her decision-making.”

Athletic director Harry Sheehy said he told Koclanes several times this winter to ignore her team’s record and focus on improving its internal culture. He said the coach did the best she could with the resources at her disposal.

“We’re certainly headed in the right direction, but you need bullets in your gun,” Sheehy said, emphasizing the program’s need for several talented recruiting classes. “Energy-wise, I see improvement in how hard we play and just by looking at the bench during games. Our kids are into the game. It’s a whole different picture than it was at this time last season.”

Szabo seemed tired but resolute in both her carriage and words Saturday.

“We could see that we were getting better so we were not let down by our losses,” she said. “We know it’s going to come to a positive end.”

Notes: Senior co-captain Eve Zelinger started for the second consecutive game, a move Koclanes said was a thank-you for the Californian’s four years of work. … Six injured Dartmouth players watched the game in street clothes. … Former Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus, who resigned last year and became director of women’s basketball operations at Massachusetts, saw her team’s season end Thursday with a loss in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. UMass was 4-27 and is 22-97 during four seasons under head coach and former Dartmouth assistant Sharon Dawley. … Freshman guard Moriah Morton, a former Lebanon High star, appeared in one game for two minutes this season. … Former Dartmouth head coach Jacquie Hullah, who recently finished her third season guiding Carnegie Mellon, is 35-42 at the Pittsburgh school and went 12-13 overall and 3-11 in conference play this winter.

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