Riding a four game-winning streak, the Harvard women’s basketball team will look to carry its momentum into this weekend as it returns home with the opportunity to move into first place in the Ivy League.
The Crimson (13-5, 4-1 Ivy) faces a consistently tough league foe in Columbia (9-9, 3-3 Ivy) on tonight, before taking on first-place Cornell (11-8, 5-1 Ivy) tomorrow.
Harvard will be playing at home for the first time since Jan. 5, when the Crimson treated its biggest home crowd of the year to an 88-77 victory over Dartmouth. At 5-1, Harvard holds the best home record in the league.
“It’s definitely nice to be back at home,” senior guard Jenn Monti said.
The Crimson will be at the friendly confines of Lavietes Pavilion for its next four games.
“We have a lot of confidence playing at home, especially after winning three of four tough Ivy games on the road,” co-captain Katie Gates said.
On the road last weekend, the Crimson overcame slow starts in each of its games to record, 63-51, and 61-57, victories over Brown and Yale respectively.
“Brown really collapsed on the post with [freshman forward] Reka [Cserny] being out, and that took us out of our game in the first half,” Monti said.
Harvard was able to adjust however, and bounced back from a dismal 19-point first-half performance to shoot a scintillating 56 percent from the field in the second half.
Also contributing to the victory was the fact that for the first time this season, someone other than sophomore forward Hana Peljto and Cserny led the Crimson in scoring.
Monti recorded a career-high 18 points while contributing six assists. Monti leads the league with an average of 6.8 assists per game.
In last Saturday’s game against Yale, Monti scored the Crimson’s final four points to seal the victory after Peljto added a game-high 16 points.
Harvard will need to play complete games and receive contributions from a multitude of players in order to come away with two victories this weekend.
Columbia enters tonight’s contest having split games with Princeton and Penn last weekend. The Lions defeated Princeton by 18 points on Friday before suffering an 80-84 overtime loss to Penn.
Freshman forward Nicole Lesko earned Rookie of the Week honors for averaging 16 points and five boards over the two contests.
The Harvard defense will also need to keep tabs on junior Megan O’Neil, who scored 18 points is the loss to Penn, 15 of those coming from behind the arc.
Columbia also enters the game out-rebounding its opponents by a league-best 11.3 boards per game.
Cornell, meanwhile, has only one loss in its past 12 games—an overtime loss to Columbia on Jan. 26.
At 5-3 on the road, the Big Red have the conference’s second-best record away from home, topped only by the Crimson, who are 7-3.
Cornell is coming off a sweep of Penn and Princeton last weekend, where it beat both teams by an average of more than 20 points.
Senior guard Do Stevens, the Ivy League Player of the Week, scored 19 points in each game.
The Big Red has a balanced offense, as four players scored in the double digits in the win over Princeton and seven players are averaging five or more points per game for the year.
Cornell also features a defense that forces just under 21 turnovers per game.
“We expect Cornell to put us under a lot of pressure, both full and half court, so we have been working on re-establishing our transition and penetrating packed zones,” Monti said.
Harvard will also be helped by the return of its second-leading scorer, Cserny, who should be back after missing last weekend’s games due to an ankle injury.
The Crimson is motivated by the possibility of overtaking the top spot in the league.
“These two wins would be huge for morale starting off the second half of the year,” Monti said.
For Harvard, two wins this weekend would mean a chance at controlling its own destiny down the stretch.
“It’s do or die from here on out,” Gates said. “After losing to Princeton, we don’t have the luxury of making any more mistakes.”
Tip-off for each game is at 6 p.m.