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Women’s Hoop: Lions Growl Over Big Green

Hanover — Inside the door leading from the Dartmouth College women’s basketball locker room to the Leede Arena court is a sign that reads “Mind On 18,” a reference to the Big Green possibly adding to its record 17 Ivy League crowns.

That hoped-for day seemed a long way off on Saturday, however, when the hosts lost to perennial league doormat Columbia, 65-59. The Lions snapped a six-game losing streak with just their fifth victory of the season, while Dartmouth slumped to 3-19 overall and 0-8 in Ivy play.

“It’s frustrating, but I’m not looking at the win-loss columns,” rookie coach Belle Koclanes said. “That’s not my focus and it wasn’t coming in here.”

Dartmouth has lost seven consecutive games and nine of its last 10 contests. The Big Green hasn’t gone winless during an Ivy League season since it went 0-5 during the 1977-78 campaign, just the sixth winter of the program’s existence. More recently, its fewest league victories came during 2010-11, when it had three, and during 1990-91, when it managed four.

Dartmouth last won three or fewer games during a season in 1975-76, the program’s fourth year, when it finished 1-8.

Just five seasons ago, the Big Green went 13-1 in Ivy League play and claimed its second consecutive Ancient Eight title and the accompanying NCAA tournament berth. Koclanes said she’s not thinking about how fast the program fell, however, but how quickly it can rise again.

“Does anyone plan on being here?” Koclanes said of her team’s dire straits. “No one does, and we have a lot of development to work on. I’ve only known these players since April and that’s not a lot of time to change habits and to work on skills that we need them to perform at a higher level and intensity.

“This is still early in our journey but I hope you can see players like Lakin Roland, who is by far our most improved player. Nicola Zimmer, our point guard, I wish I had four years with her instead of one.”

Lakin, a sophomore forward, led Dartmouth with 22 points and 11 rebounds and Zimmer, a senior, had 20 points and seven assists. The other three starters, however, combined for just 13 points, and Columbia held a 12-4 edge in bench scoring.

One of those struggling for the Big Green was standout guard Fanni Szabo, who entered averaging 21 points per game at home but who finished with seven Saturday, all during the second half. Szabo played 24 minutes, 18 before intermission. Starting forward Milica Toskovic was scoreless during 37 minutes and fouled out.

Columbia (5-17, 2-6) outscored Dartmouth 24-17 in the paint, including a 10-4 margin before intermission, at which it led, 30-26. The Big Green has no true post player with junior Tia Dawson out for the season because of injury, which contributed to the Lions making 48 percent of their field-goal attempts during the first half and 45 percent during the game.

“We had a few plays where they got offensive boards and extended some possessions and we had some defensive breakdowns at key moments in the game,” said Zimmer, a senior who could graduate without her team finishing higher than sixth in the Ivy standings. “That pushed their lead up and made it that much harder to come back.”

Zimmer was recruited by former coach Chris Wielgus at a time when it seemed reasonable to believe Dartmouth was merely reloading and not headed for a major rebuilding effort. However, the Maryland native said she doesn’t focus on what might have been.

“It’s a little bit of a transition year, but we’re getting better, even if you don’t see that in our record,” she said. “We played harder in this game tonight than we did last night (during a 19-point loss to Cornell). There was a point in this game where we could have gone down 20 (points), like has been happening, and we didn’t do that.

“I have no doubt in my mind that next year, this team won’t be 0-8 in the Ivies.”

When it might claim that 18th league title, however, is anyone’s guess.