Quakers get dance card punched again

FAILURE was never an option for Penn's basketball team this season.

Sure, the Quakers had a new coach. They also had three senior starters who'd been part of the last two Ivy League champions. So, they were favored to threepeat for a reason. Still . . .

"Sometimes, it's harder to do what you're supposed to do, than what you're not supposed to do," said Glen Miller, the former Brown coach, who took over when Fran Dunphy left for Temple last April.

Fair enough. That wouldn't have stopped folks from killing him, had it somehow gone wrong. Now, they'll say he only won with somebody else's players. That's OK, too. His team is going to the NCAA Tournament. And that's enough.

"This feels absolutely fabulous," he gushed. "All the credit in the world goes to the seniors. I was nervous coming into this one. They came out like they'd been here before. I'm just here for the ride. There's plenty of credit to go around. This is the result of what Fran did for 17 years. I want to thank him for what he left us."

The Quakers (20-8, 11-1) clinched it the way you're supposed to, by drilling second-place Yale (13-13, 9-4) at the Palestra last night, 86-58. The Bulldogs handed them their only loss up there on Feb. 3, by nine. This time, it was over quickly, as the Quakers scored 19 in a row en route to a 31-9 lead. It was 49-29 at the break. Even though the Yale band played "Don't Stop Believing" during intermission, it wasn't happening.

And really, does it get any better than cutting down the nets in your house?

"It never gets old," said senior Mark Zoller, who had a double-double by halftime and finished with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 17 boards and six assists, four blocks and as many steals. "It's just sweeter when it's your last time. We had that bull's-eye on us from the start. Everyone was gunning for us, like always. But we came to play every night. It's a unique group. We had that good dynamic.

"It was a transition, without [Dunphy]. But [Miller] knew we were established. He met us halfway. And it's worked out pretty well."

It helps when you have the two best game-changers in the league. Fellow senior Ibrahim Jaaber, the reigning Ivy Player of the Year, had 13 points, seven boards, seven assists and three steals. You don't expect anything less.

"It's one thing to respect the tradition, it's another to fulfill it," he said. "We just have a lot of guys who worked really hard for this. They wanted it. And it shows.

"It's not always easy to win as the favorite. But we have constant reminders. We see the banners [hanging from the rafters] every day. It's so great to go out like this."

It's been a little more than a decade since the Quakers won three straight titles. Before that, you'd have to back a little more than a quarter-century. That's select company.

It's also the fifth time in 6 years that they will represent the Ivies in the 65-team field. The last time Miller was part of the Madness was 1992, when he was an assistant on the Connecticut team that made it to the Final Eight.

"We wanted to take out the team that beat us," he said. "We couldn't wait for the rematch."

The Quakers have now won 20 straight at home against Ivy competition. They'll play their last Palestra game tonight, against Brown, before busing to Princeton for Tuesday's regular-season finale.

Yale, which might be favored next season, still hasn't won here since 1997.

The Quakers also got 11 points from their other senior starter, Steve Danley, who played only 4 minutes in the first half because of foul problems. But sophomore Brennan Votel, who tied a career high with 17 minutes, stepped in and gave them 10 points, one off a career best, and six boards, which tied a career best. Good timing.

The Quakers shot 56.9 percent from the field, 46.7 from the arc. Yale countered with 35.3 and 25. And got crushed off the glass, 45-22.

Anybody have some scissors handy?

The Quakers, of course, haven't won an NCAA game since 1994. And that was their only NCAA win since 1980. They nearly pulled off an all-time upset last March against Texas, as a 15 seed. But that's a story for Selection Sunday. This moment was all about legacy.

And payback.

"They got us good at Yale," said Zoller, who had only eight points that night. "They were the better team. We wanted to prove we're the best team. We wanted to leave no doubt.

"We have more we want to do. We have two games left, and we want to finish strong. When you come here, you have a lot of goals. There's so much tradition. We're a big part of that. To even be mentioned with some of the teams that have come before is amazing. It's something nobody can ever take away from us."

It's the best thing about forever. *