"It was a win."
Harvard women's basketball Coach Kathy Delaney Smith said it simply, almost matter-of-factly. But it was more than just a win. The Crimson (10-10 overall, 5-3 Ivy League) secured its hold on second place in the Ivies with a convincing victory over Columbia last night at Briggs Cage. Harvard used a balanced attack to beat back several furious Lion rallies to prevail, 79-64.
"Columbia came to play tonight, but we were mentally prepared for them, it just took us a half to get going," junior guard Beth Wambach said.
Harvard shot a respectable 44 percent from the field and an admirable 82 percent from the line, including some crucial one-and-ones late in the contest. The Crimson also outrebounded the Lions, 54-39, including 10 by sophomore guard Maura Healey, the shortest player on the floor.
Columbia fought and scrapped to erase several Harvard leads, finally knotting the score at 51-51 midway through the second half. But Harvard responded with a 10-0 run to put the game of reach.
The Lions made one final push, a 6-0 run, to cut Harvard's lead to seven with two minutes left in regulation, but the combination of Dina Hadrick, who hit for 15 points, and Wambach, who paced the team with 18, made the Lions' last attempted roar a whimper.
"Harvard played great--they executed and put the ball in the basket," Columbia Coach Nancy Kalafus said. "We didn't execute and missed open shots. You just can't win that way."
The Crimson distributed the ball well to pull out to a 19-12 lead on Wambach's three-point field goal midway through the first half. Dominating the boards early, Columbia (11-10, 4-5) cut the lead to two points on a lay-up by guard Jennifer Beubis two minutes later. With the Lions cleaning the glass, Delaney Smith switched from a man defense to a 1-2-2 zone.
The zone sparked a 8-0 run, as Harvard built its biggest lead of the first half on mid-range shots by Jen Mazanec and Healey sandwiched around two short jumpers by center Sandy Springer.
But the Lions roared back with a 10-0 run of their own to knot the score at 27. Senior Trisha Suggs, who burned the Crimson with 23 points, 15 rebounds and 8 blocks, nailed a baseline jumper to cap the rally. Columbia took the lead for the last time at 32-31 when forward Charlene Williams completed a three-point play with 2:23 remaining in the half, but Wambach nailed a jumper from just inside the arc to give Harvard a 35-34 lead at intermission.
Delaney Smith switched her squad's defensive look again to begin the second session. And the Crimson responded with another eight-point run, as a 2-3 zone held Columbia to one shot. Wambach drained a trifecta to extend the lead to 43-34.
But the Lions slapped on a half-court press and answered with an 8-2 run of their own. Suggs scored 6 points as the trap temporarily unnerved the crimson ballhandlers.
"Their half court press bothered us a bit," Delaney Smith said. "We got frantic and committed too many turnovers. we have to learn to punish a team when they use the press."
Delaney Smith was pleased with the result, but expressed concern with her squad's 21 turnovers.
"We have to concentrate on improving two facets of our game, turnovers and rebounding," she said.