PROVIDENCE, R.I.--For the first time in Harvard history, the women's basketball team is going to the NCAA tournament.
The Harvard women's basketball team clinched the Ivy League championship and automatically qualified for post-season play, dominating Brown 73-62 last night at Pizzitola Center.
Spearheaded by sophomore power forward Allison Feaster's career-high 31-point performance, the Crimson defeated the Bears at Brown for the first time since the 1990-91 season, the year Harvard last won the Ancient Eight crown. In addition to her Jordan-esque offensive display, Feaster was a terror on the boards in the second half, ripping 13 of 16 on the night over the final 20 minutes.
"I felt very good physically," Feaster said. "I didn't get winded and I was very pumped up."
Indeed, every aspect of Feaster's game was clicking. In the first half, the powerfully-built sophomore, not noted for her ball-handling skills, broke by two Brown defenders with a sensational cross-over dribble which left coaches, players and fans speech-less.
"I love her. She's my hero," senior guard Elizabeth Proudfit said. "[Feaster] has the ability to dominate anyone. She was playing against a 6'4" center [Brown's Chris Yasaitis], and I'm not even surprised."
Feaster, and Harvard for that matter, came out ready to play; the Crimson stormed to a commanding 9-0 lead on the strength of three-pointers by Feaster, Proudfit and senior forward Amy Reinhard and increased the lead to 15-4 on six straight points by Feaster.
Harvard maintained the 11-point cushion for much of first period, until a Brown rally pulled the Bears to within seven, 26-19, with 3:47 left to play. Following a Crimson timeout, Reinhard made a steal and went coast-to-coast for a lay-up, swinging the momentum back to Harvard.
However, Brown was undeterred and narrowed the Harvard lead to six, 31-25 with 43.2 seconds remaining in the half. But Feaster, working on the perimeter, made yet another big play. Catching the ball with the shot clock winding down, the sophomore drained a huge three-pointer, increasing the Crimson lead to nine points, 34-25 at intermission.
"She was a woman possessed," junior point guard Jessica Gelman said. "She could pretty much have her way. She's had some ups and downs this year, [but] she played outstanding tonight."
But while Feaster's play was "simply marvelous," Harvard also benefited from Brown's woeful shooting. The Bears shot 23 percent from the field in the first stanza and missed many easy put-backs of offensive rebounds. Of course Harvard, which boasts the league's top-ranked field-goal percentage defense, also deserves credit for Brown's brick-laying.
"I think that our defense was outstanding tonight," Gelman said. Harvard opened the second half in the same manner it had opened the first--on fire.
Following a Katy Davis put-back, Feaster hit two free throws, converted a three-point play and hit a short jumper in the paint as the Crimson slowly increased its halftime lead to 43-31.
At that point it became apparent that Brown couldn't stop Feaster and couldn't even hope to contain her. When the Bears employed the Ivy League version of the NBA's "Hack-a-Shaq" defense, Feaster made them pay at the charity stripe.
Indeed, with 14:08 to play, a Feaster free-throw gave Harvard its largest lead until that point, 49-33.
But Brown refused to quit--with Feaster and Gelman riding the pine, the Bears embarked on a 11-2 run, closing the gap to 51-44.
With just under 11 minutes to play, Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith re-inserted Feaster and Reinhard into the line-up, and the substitutions paid instant dividends. Feaster sank a pair of freebies and Reinhard knocked down a trey from the right corner, pushing the Crimson advantage back to double digits, 58-45, with 7:48 remaining.
Harvard cruised the rest of way, pushing the lead as high as 19 at one point, en route to the 73-62 title-clinching victory.
Still, the Crimson players and coaches were somewhat disappointed; Harvard shot only 38.2 percent from the floor and was out-rebounded by a taller, though far less athletic team.
"Our shot selection was poor and we weren't running our offenses," Delaney-Smith said. "I felt we were so tight and scared [mid-way through the first half] that they were beating us to rebounds and loose balls."
"It's kind of anti-climactic," Reinhard said. "We're so dominant in the league, I just hope we don't get complacent."
Indeed, the victory little resembled most championship celebrations; although some players removed their jerseys and began waving them over their heads, the Brown nets remained intact.
"We made that decision earlier in the week," Proudfit said. "We have to win the rest of our games.... [Then] we're gonna destroy Dartmouth's nets."
Nets or no nets, one thing is certain: the Harvard women's basketball team now owns the Ivy championship and, for the first time ever, is headed for the NCAA tournament.
HARVARD, 94-90 at Pizzitola CenterBrown 25 37 -- 62Harvard 34 39 --7