W. Hoops Wins Fifth, Sixth in a Row
The Harvard women's basketball team is getting used to life at the top.
During a crucial Ivy League road trip this weekend, the Crimson (12-5, 5-0 Ivy) cemented its dominance over the league by defeating Columbia 73-46 Saturday afternoon and topping Cornell 58-47 Friday night.
"We're really coming together as a team," freshman forward Hallie Boger said. "We're gaining more experience with each game, and we're putting what we're learning in practice into how we play during the game."
After winning both of its games this weekend, the Crimson has now won its last six games in a row and remains tied with Penn (14-5, 5-0) for first place in the Ivy League. The Crimson will face the Quakers in their next contest on Friday to determine the sole owner of first place in the conference.
Harvard 73, Columbia 46
Four players in double figures led a balanced Crimson offense against a smaller, outsized Lion defense. Following strong performances against Cornell on Friday, captain Laela Sturdy had 18 points for Harvard, and junior Melissa Johnson contributed 14 points and 14 boards. Sophomore guard Jenn Monti added 11 points, and senior guard Courtney Egelhoff tacked on 10 points.
Freshman Shaunte Edmonds led the Lions (3-14, 2-4) with 15 points and seven rebounds, and Catherine Tubridy had 10 rebounds and 15 points for Columbia.
After pulling out a close victory over Cornell Friday night, Harvard again struggled early against Columbia Saturday afternoon. A young team with six freshmen on its roster, the Lions briefly enjoyed a five-point lead over the Crimson with 18:37 remaining in the first half. By halftime, however, Harvard had recovered to claim a 32-27 advantage over Columbia.
"In the first half, we made a lot of small errors, and we couldn't really find an offensive flow," said freshman guard Bree Kelley. "Our offense wasn't really clicking yet, so we had to rely on our defense."
Harvard emerged from the locker room at halftime prepared to raze the Columbia defense and stifle the Lions' struggling offense. For the first five minutes of the second half, the Lions failed to eat away at the Crimson's five-point halftime lead, and Harvard outscored Columbia 41-19 after the break.
"During the second half, we tried to capitalize on the mistakes that [Columbia] made," Kelley said. "We started to put in the important shots, make the big steals and get the rebounds that we needed to win the game."
Harvard shot 42.4 percent from the field and held Columbia to a 27.4 shooting percentage from the field. In the battle of the boards, Harvard outrebounded Columbia 50-37, taking advantage of key put-back opportunities to vanquish the Lions' chances of victory.
"We were rebounding much better [during the second half] because people really started to step it up for us," Boger said.
Harvard 58, Cornell 47
Sturdy led an explosive Crimson attack with 18 points, and Johnson tacked on 10 points and 14 rebounds for Harvard, including a crucial free-throw with 10.8 seconds left on the clock that gave the Crimson its biggest lead of the game at 58-45.
For the Big Red, senior forward Kristie Riccio, junior guard Janice Arcilla, and sophomore guard Deborah Stevens each contributed nine points for Cornell.
Harvard and Cornell exchanged leads throughout the game. With 4:34 left in the first half, Johnson broke an 18-all tie with a three-point play, but two successful free throw attempts by the Big Red's Jennifer Linker cut the Crimson's advantage to one point.
With Harvard grasping on to a slim one-point lead, the Crimson quickly went on a 7-0 run, sparked by a three-pointer from Egelhoff that gave Harvard a 28-20 lead with 1:35 left in the first half. The Crimson took a 29-24 lead into the locker room but remained unsatisfied with its first-half effort.
"The rims at Cornell were really small, and our shots just weren't falling at first," Kelley said. "We weren't getting the offensive rebounds that we needed during the first half, so in the second half, we focused on our rebounding."
With 15:15 remaining in the game, a free throw by Johnson gave the Crimson a 32-24 lead, but Cornell then exploded on a 12-4 run, tying the game at 36-all on a driving layup by sophomore guard Deborah Stevens with 7:53 left on the clock.
Only twelve seconds later, the Crimson regained its lead when Johnson connected on both ends of a one-and-one. Over the final 6:39 of the game, Harvard outscored Cornell 20-10, and with 2:27 left, Sturdy hit a critical jumper that gave the Crimson a 53-43 lead and sealed the victory.
The Crimson's second-half focus on rebounding and defense paid off at the end. Harvard held a 14-3 scoring advantage over Cornell off of offensive rebounds and limited the Big Red offense to a 29.3 field goal percentage for the game.
The Crimson's success this year contrasts sharply with the predictions of preseason critics who had foretold a fourth-place finish in the league for Harvard.
After enjoying a successful weekend against two league opponents, Harvard will face a difficult challenge Friday night against Penn, which is the only other unbeaten team in the Ivy League. At stake for the Crimson next weekend will be the continuation of its six-game win streak as well as its place atop the league standings.