How does Harvard's women's basketball team spell relief?
After losing ten of its last 11 games, firmly establishing its place in the lvy League cellar with an 0-5 league record, and in general playing the most frustrating women's basketball that Crimson faithful have seen in decades, Kathy Delaney Smith and Co. (3-14, 0-5) Finally scraped together the pieces of an A-1 performance, convincingly beating the Big Red (3-3, 6-12) last night in Brigg's Cage, 72-57.
"There's no better way to describe this win than to call it a relief," Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney Smith said. "It's been frustrating all year because both intensity and talent--what it takes to win at this level--have been coming. Today, however, we played like we can play--and it was wonderful."
"I had a lot of fun tonight," freshman guard Jessica Gelman said. "We were all commenting during timeouts on how much fun we were having. It was just great to be in the driver's seat for once."
In general, the key to the Crimson's win was its ability to seize the game's momentum from the beginning and never let go. On numerous occasions this season, it has established a big early lead, only to watch it disappear in the first and middle portions of the second half. Against the Big Red, though, Harvard got out in front early and was able to stay an arm's distance ahead for the remainder of the game.
"Basketball is really about shifts of momentum," Smith said ."It's about gaining confidence at certain points in a game and taking off with it. In past game's we've been doing all the right things, but losing the momentum late in the game.
"Tonight, instead of just watching the momentum fade away when they would make a charge, we took the initiative and attacked," she added. "That was the key."
For the first few minutes of the contest, it looked as if the game would be close. The Crimson and the Big Red wrestled back and forth with the lead for much of the first half. With a little less than nine minutes to go, the score was tied, 20-20.
But from there, Harvard took off. Paced by excellent teamwork, aggressive penetration from senior guard Cara Frey, sophomore guard Elizabeth Proudfit and Gelman, and the inside game of junior Tammy Butler, the Crimson scored six straight points and gradually went about building a double-digit lead. At the half, Harvard led by 14, 42-28.
"We had a really good first half," said Butler, who led the Crimson with 11 points in the period and who would go on to score 27 for the game. "We were moving the ball better than we have all season. Everything was in sync."
We just came out pumped, "Gelman said. "Everything jelled. It was cool."
The Crimson knew from previous games, however, that a big first-half lead was only half the battle.
"We knew that coming out in the second half we had to attack," Frey said. "We couldn't let them come to us. We knew that they would make a run, so we just tried to fight like we were behind throughout the game and hope for the best."
It took only a few minutes for the Big Red to make that run. After the Crimson extended the lead to 16, 50-34, Cornell scored on four straight possessions to come within nine of Harvard.
It was there that the Crimson drew the line, though. Behind Butler, who lifted her inside moves to a new level, and Frey, who hit a key three-pointer to put a stop to another late Cornell run, Harvard extended the lead to 18.
At that point, with 1:45 on the clock, Butler took a pass in the paint, pivoted around her Big Red defender and hit a five-foot bank shot to give Harvard a commanding 72-52 lead and herself a place in the record book; she became the first Crimson player ever to reach the 1,000-point milestone in her junior season.
"It was fun to get the record, but it was even more fun because it took place in such a fun game," Butler said. "That's one to remember."
Cornell would score five points in the final 1:45, but it would be of no avail.
The Crimson would get its 26th and sweetest win over the Big Red in 31 tries, and it would relish it.
"This is a serious boost to our confidence," tri-captain Catherine Crisera said. "We know what we can do now and I think we realize again just how much fun it is to win. It's been a long time."
Harvard will face Columbia tonight at 6 p.m. at Brigg's Cage. In 17 games against the Lions, the Crimson has never lost.