It's The Defense That Wins Championships
Offense Is Great, But...
Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics saw the most awful thing last season when they played the Lakers in the 1987 NBA Championship.
When games were on the line and Los Angeles needed baskets, it sent out a "quick team," which could maintain a tremendous level of defensive intensity for the duration of the 24-second shot clock. The Celtics would commit shot clock violations that led to Laker wins.
The Harvard women's water polo team has adopted a trapping defense which can shut a team down for 35 seconds. The pressure has spelled doom for many an opposing team this season.
How did Harvard get such a great defense? One reason is that the Crimson had to make a few adjustments to counter some early deficiencies early in the season, especially in terms of covering outside shooters.
"We tried it [the pressure defense] after getting burned by outside shooters at the beginning of the season," Tri-Captain Leslie Barbi said.
Another reason is some good old fashioned hard work.
"Our team is made up of many strong players, and we get a kick out of playing hard water polo in practice," senior Tri-Captain Lynley Ogilvie said. "People know how to play really good defense, and we happen to have a few people who are very good at it."
How good? Many times, Harvard had been ahead by slim margins in the fourth period, while the opposition tried to open up the offense. But that's when the Crimson gets more animated. Harvard players start picking up their defensive assignments 40 or 50 feet from the goal.
The opposing player with the ball usually has to waste 15 seconds waiting for a driver to get open and help her out. When that second player receives the ball, she will draw more one-on-one defensive pressure that wastes another 10 seconds. By then, the shot clock is in the red, and it is highly unlikely that the other team will even get a chance to score.
"The most important thing is to keep them from getting a shot off," Tri-Captain Eileen Pratt said.
There are many parts to the defense. And Tara Gustilo, the team leader in steals, has a degree in grand larceny.
"As far as steals go, I try to be in the right place at the right time," Gustilo said modestly. But the junior, with her long arms and quick hands, has become a great ball hawk.
"It seems to me as though it is the strongest part of my game," Gustilo said.
And the feeling is contagious.
"I feel good on defense," junior Stacey Moran said. "I feel confident tat I have my person covered and that I can see if someone else needs help."
The weekend will mark a challenge. Harvard's performance in the Eastern Tournament will serve as a benchmark of how far the defense--which has carried the Crimson at times--will take it.
"The real test will be this weekend because the only team we've really had to practice our defense on was MIT," Moran sais. "It's not like we've really been tested, except against one team."
"When we want to play tough defense, we're as strong a defense as anyone on the East," Harvard Coach Chris Hafferty said. "When we decide we need it, we put it into play. It would be nice to have it all the time."
"This weekend, one of our goals should be to keep the pressure on all times," Pratt said.
But that shouldn't be too hard if you're good at what you do.
"When coach says, `Put on the defense,' everyone knows what to do," Ogilvie said. "When we put it on, we know how to do it right."