Purdue and Connecticut.
Is it possible that this year's Harvard women's basketball team will be mentioned in the same breath as these two top-twenty clubs?
The Crimson (1-1 overall) will get some answers this weekend when it competes in the Duke Dial Classic at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. The tournament begins this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. with a top-twenty showdown between the Huskies (1-1) and the Boilermakers (1-0), followed by a game featuring Harvard and Duke (2-1).
Today's winners will meet in the championship game tomorrow, while the losers will play a consolation game. Of course, a tournament victory for Harvard could vault the Crimson into the national rankings. But even a strong showing against either Purdue or UConn will improve Harvard's chances of fulfilling its dream of gaining an NCAA bid.
"This is the year we are going to do it, if ever," senior forward Jen Mazanec said. "This year is the best chance we have for a strong showing against the national teams and to perhaps receive a bid."
In today's matchup with the Blue Devils, Harvard will have to contend with the dangerous inside play of senior Sue Harnett. The 6'4" center is coming off anterior cruciate ligament damage to her knee, an injury she sustained in the finals of last year's Classic. But Harnett compiled impressive numbers (19.5 ppg., 8.7 rpg.) the previous season and it will be up to Crimson center Debbie Flandermeyer to neutralize her.
The key to the Duke game will be Harvard's ability to keep up with the Devils in the paint. The Blue Devils carry six players over six-feet tall, along with 5'11' guard Traci Williams, who averaged 9.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Regardless of today's results, Harvard faces an even greater challenge tomorrow when it is guaranteed to meet up with a top-twenty squad. UConn has been led this season by senior center Kerry Bascom (16.5 ppg.) and junior forward Orly Grossman (16.0 ppg.). Once again, the game looks to be decided down low, as the Huskies boast five six-footers.
If Harvard should happen to meet Purdue tomorrow, it will face what will most likely be its greatest size mismatch of the season. There are eight Boilermakers over six-feet tall, including 6'3" starting center Rhonda Mateen, who pumped in 17 points and ripped down 11 boards in Purdue's only game thus far this season against Miami. Senior Joy Holmes led the Boilermakers scoring attack with 23 points in the season opener.
So how does Harvard plan to stop these teams?
There won't be any surprises from the Crimson. They will play their style of ball--the run-and-gun long-range-bombing offense--and they'll apply full court pressure on defense.
"Our offense loves three-pointers and we are a definite threat because of this," senior Co-captain Beth Wambach said. "All the guards can shoot threes, but Erin Maher and Maura Healey are particularly outstanding."
In Harvard's two games this season, Healy has sunk four treys for a 600 clip, but Maher, last year's third ranked three-point shooter in the country, has been ice cold, hitting only one of nine from behind the arc. Wambach has jump-started the Crimson offense, nailing seven three-pointers and tallying 46 points.
"We need offense and defense to stay with these teams," Maher said. "Where this starts is controlling the boards."
If Harvard's offense and defense are able to stay with these teams, the Crimson will get further indication of its chances for postseason play.