Harvard, perhaps daunted by the crowd of 2,984, watched the Commodores take off to an early 18-3 lead that they did not relinquish.
“I think it’s important for us not to go into these games intimidated,” said junior forward Hana Peljto. “That’s a big factor when you play a team like this, when it’s a very hyped up atmosphere on their home court.”
Harvard (3-1) beat Central Michigan (3-1) on Saturday to earn its place in the final, while Vanderbilt (4-0) topped Youngstown State (1-3). The Commodores have now won 12 straight championships in their annual tournament. In the consolation game, the Chippewas defeated the Penguins to claim third.
Vanderbilt 84, Harvard 44
The Crimson knew it was going to have its hands full guarding 6’6 center Chantelle Anderson, who led the preseason list of candidates for the Naismith College Basketball Player of the Year Award. But the Commodores claim more than just one star player—they have an entire arsenal of weapons, as shown by the five players who scored double-digit points for Vanderbilt.
“You couldn’t just stop one person—they were good all over,” Peljto said. “We couldn’t really focus on any one player.”
The Commodores used all their threats from the start, when Harvard spotted them four points in the first three minutes. Peljto put Harvard on the scoreboard at 16:54 with a three-pointer, but the Crimson couldn’t manage any further offense for the next four minutes and Vanderbilt ran away with an 18-3 advantage.
“They were bigger and stronger than our team and it was an adjustment,” Peljto said. “Overall, the team felt that we lost our confidence and the shots we usually hit didn’t fall for us.”
Peljto interrupted the Commodores’ flight, adding a layup and a free throw to wake Harvard up with 12:41 to go. The closest the Crimson from then on was 22-13 following a three-pointer by junior Tricia Tubridy.
The Crimson’s comeback halted there, as Vanderbilt went on a six-minute, 14-point run while Harvard couldn’t muster a point.
Freshman Jessica Holsey tripped up the Commodores’ sprint with a jumper at 3:40, putting the score at 36-15. But that would be the Crimson’s final offense of the frame, as Vanderbilt closed out the lopsided half, 42-15.
Though the deficit proved insurmountable, Harvard’s offense perked up after the intermission. The Crimson scored its first basket of the half when Tubridy reeled in a rebound and Peljto beat everyone down the floor to score a layup.
The Commodores still outscored the Crimson threefold in the first 12 minutes, tallying 27 points to Harvard’s nine. Vanderbilt continued this trend and the Crimson was left with very little time to avoid the pain of a 52-point pickup, as the Commodores held its biggest lead at 84-32 lead with 2:44 remaining.
Then, Harvard showed one of its brighter moments, refusing to give up and calling for full-court press in the waning moments of the game.
Harvard scored the games final 12 points—two layups by Peljto and eight points from sophomore Reka Cserny—for the 84-44 final.
Throughout the game, Harvard grappled with poor shooting and missed three-point attempts. The Crimson shot just 17-for-66 from the field and 4-for-33 from behind the arc.
Peljto, named to the All-Tournament team, finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Cserny was the Crimson’s other double-figure finisher, with 12 points despite not scoring until four minutes into the second half.
“Today, we just got a little intimidated,” Peljto said after the game. “Usually, we’re a little more calm when shooting and today, we felt frantic and rushed.”
Harvard 69, Central Michigan 58
Though Harvard got off to a slow start in Saturday’s game against Central Michigan, a strong push at the end of the first half and a commanding performance in the second frame secured the Crimson victory.
Peljto scored a season-high 29 points, including 18 in the second half. Sophomore Rochelle Bell tied her season mark with 13 points, including the nine from behind the arc.
Harvard failed to score during the first four minutes of the game, but a layup from Tubridy began the Crimson’s rally. Harvard had taken a lead 12:22 into the game, capped off by a Peljto basket.
The Chippewas fought back to a one-point advantage with 7:25 remaining, but the glory was short-lived as Harvard went into the half with a 29-20 lead it never relinquished.
The Crimson momentum rolled through the second period, as Harvard moved out to a 13-point cushion with just over four minutes left, and finished with the 69-58 win.
In addition to good team chemistry, the Crimson also boasted success on the boards, as Tubridy registered nine rebounds and Peljto, captain Kate Ides and Holsey each tallied seven.
Harvard’s solid defense was topped with three blocks from Cserny and two steals from Bell.
—Staff writer Jessica T. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.