Harvard faced a Penn team on Friday that was desperate to avoid its fourth league loss and a near-certain end to its Ivy title defense. The Quakers came back from an early 16-6 deficit and led by as much as 46-41, but clutch baskets from junior Tricia Tubridy and freshman Reka Cserny in the final minutes lifted the Crimson to a 59-55 victory.
The game was riveting for the 978 fans in attendance, but Harvard didn’t want it to be that close.
“Usually when we start well, we tend to relax,” said sophomore forward Hana Peljto. “We made for an exciting game, but hopefully that won’t happen again.”
The Crimson hoped to emphatically avenge its only Ivy loss of the season on Saturday against Princeton and appeared headed in that direction with a 14-3 run to start the game. Harvard never led by that many points again, but never trailed either in a 78-70 victory.
The team was pleased with the end result, but not with the turnovers, missed shots and defensive breakdowns that came along the way.
“I think we definitely haven’t played our best game since Dartmouth [an 88-77 Ivy opening win],” Peljto said. “We’re just waiting for [our best] to come out one of these games.”
Peljto and Cserny were Harvard’s offensive leaders as usual. On Friday, Peljto led Harvard with 21 points and Cserny added 10, many of them in the clutch. On Saturday, Cserny led Harvard with 26 points, while Peljto tallied 22 points and grabbed a career-high 19 boards.
Weekend sweeps by both Harvard and Cornell set up a second first-place showdown next Friday. Harvard (17-5, 8-1 Ivy) has led Cornell (14-9, 8-2) by a half-game in the Ivy standings since beating the Big Red 64-58 at Lavietes on Feb. 9. A win this weekend would put the Crimson firmly in control of the Ivy race.
“Right now if we take care of our business every game, we win the title,” Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We know it needs to be better basketball than this [weekend].”
Harvard 78, Princeton 70
The Crimson came into Saturday’s game expecting to make amends for allowing Princeton to fire at will from behind the arc in a 59-55 loss at Jadwin Gym on Jan. 11. But Harvard’s game plan the second time around didn’t go as expected.
“Our game plan was very clearly to take away all threes, and we just did not do that,” Delaney-Smith said. “We should have been able to do it in our zone and in our man, and with few exceptions.”
Junior Allison Cahill (6-of-11) and freshman Karen Bolster (3-of-7) led the Princeton three-point attack, which kept the Tigers in the game despite the early 14-3 deficit.
For the second time this weekend, Harvard allowed a basket in the final seconds of the first half. This time it allowed Princeton to cut the deficit to 41-37 at the break.
The Tigers pulled within 44-43 with 17:26 left, but even when the Crimson bent Saturday, it didn’t break.