PALO ALTO, Calif.—Cinderella is alive and well, and she has enchanted the Harvard women’s basketball team.
Tonight at midnight Harvard meets Arkansas for a spot in the Sweet 16 in an attempt to continue the magic ride it began Saturday against top-seeded Stanford.
Harvard (23-4, 12-2 Ivy) did Saturday night what no 16th-seeded team in the history of the men’s or women’s NCAA Tournament has ever done before—it won. The Crimson became the first 16 seed ever to win a game in the Big Dance, shocking top seed Stanford (21-6, 17-1 Pac-10), 71-67, at Maples Pavilion in the West Region’s first-round matchup. It was the first victory ever by an Ivy League women’s team in the NCAAs.
Harvard’s historic achievement also snaps a 59-game winning streak at Maples Pavilion for the Cardinal that dated back to the final game of the 1993-94 season. It is the first time since 1982 that Stanford has lost in the first-round of the Tournament, and it is Stanford Coach Tara Van-Derveer’s first-ever first-round loss as well.
“I’m really happy because no one thought we could do in but us,” Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We’ve prided ourselves on breaking records (this year), and this certainly tops that list.”
Co-captain and All-American Allison Feaster led the way for Harvard with one of the most dominating performances of her stellar career. Feaster finished with 35 points, 13 rebounds and three steals in a remarkable 39 minutes of action.
Juniors Suzie Miller and Sarah Russell poured in 12 and 11 points, respectively, and combined for 10 rebounds. Senior Alison Seanor turned in a fantastic all-around effort as well, chipping in seven points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists.
All-American Olympia Scott—playing in her final collegiate game—turned in an 18-point, eight-rebound effort for the Cardinal, who was without the services of All-Americans Kristin Folkl and Vanessa Nygaard, both sidelined with torn knee ligaments. Junior Regan Freuen added 19 points and six assists in the losing cause.
“This is one of the best wins I’ve ever experienced,” Feaster said. “I can’t tell you the amount of adversity we’ve faced just coming in here, but somehow we did it.”
When Scott hit two free throws to put Stanford ahead, 63-62, with 3:58 left in the game, it became evident that the contest would go down to the wire. After Scott sent the partisan crowd of 5,137 into a frenzy with two more from the charity stripe one minute later, the Cardinal looked like it might be able to stave off the scare from the Crimson.
HARVARD 71, STANFORD 67
But Feaster, Miller and Seanor helped Harvard end the game on a 9-2 run, sealing the history-making victory. The Crimson’s surge began when Feaster made the defensive play of the game.
Off of a missed shot by Harvard, Stanford sophomore point guard Milena Flores grabbed the rebound and launched a pass up court to Scott who was out in front of everyone. But Feaster, looking more like a defensive back than a small forward, sprinted after Scott and leaped high in the air to snare the ball and prevent the uncontested lay-up.
Shortly thereafter, Seanor fed Feaster with a gorgeous backdoor pass that the All-American converted into a lay-up to pull Harvard to within one. Following a missed shot by the Cardinal, Miller came back and hit an off-balance runner from the foul line to put the Crimson in front, 66-65, with 1:32 to play.
Feaster then rebounded a missed three-pointer by Flores, and laced a pass up to freshman point guard Lisa Kowal. Rather than looking for Feaster in the offensive set, Kowal penetrated down the left side of the Cardinal’s defense and kicked the rock out to Miller who was all alone in the left corner.
Miller checked to make sure her feet were behind the three-point arc and launched a shot that found nothing but the bottom of the net, staking Harvard to a 69-65 lead with 46 seconds showing on the clock.
Stanford inbounded the ball and raced up the floor, looking for a quick shot. The ball came to Scott in the low post, but as she turned to fire, Feaster came around and stripped the ball away. Feaster was fouled immediately and hit one of her two free throws to increase Harvard’s lead to five. Scott responded with a lay-up at the other end, and Feaster was fouled again on the ensuing inbound pass with 17 seconds remaining. She hit one of two from the line to push Harvard’s lead to 71-67.
Freuen attempted to pull Stanford within one, but her three-point attempt was off the mark, and Seanor secured the rebound with three seconds left to play and was immediately fouled. Seanor was unable to convert either free throw, but that proved inconsequential as a half-court shot by Scott came up short at the buzzer, and the Harvard players stormed the court in a wild celebration.
“[I knew we had won] with about 18 seconds left, maybe less,” Feaster said. “You can never be too sure. [Stanford] is not [seeded] number one for nothing.”
The Crimson was able to overcome 21 turnovers and 25 fouls in the game by hitting a robust 65 percent of its field goal attempts in the first half and executing a brilliant defensive plan. Harvard double-and triple-teamed Scott and the rest of Stanford’s frontcourt throughout the night, forcing 16 turnovers from the Cardinal.
Stanford was consequently required to rely heavily on its perimeter shooting, which never emerged. The Cardinal shot 33.3 percent from the floor and 25.9 percent from downtown for the game.
Harvard also prevented a Maples Pavilion crowd renowned for its rowdiness from becoming a factor in the game. The Crimson opened the game with an 18-7 run and never lost its poise, answering every scoring run by the Cardinal with a clutch basket of its own.
“This means more for the Ivy League than Harvard,” Delaney-Smith said. “At some point we had to get a little respect, and as a 16 seed, I thought we didn’t get it. [The Ivy League] has had some great athletes, and our top team has always been competitive.”