The Crimson will play its regular-season home opener on Saturday night, and if the visiting Lafayette Leopards (0-4) want to take home their first win, they are going to have to earn it in Lavietes Pavilion, an arena in which Harvard went 11-1 last season.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” said senior co-captain Tricia Tubridy. “It’s always great to come play in front of your friends.”
Tubridy added that, as Lavietes Pavilion is Crimson territory, “we know how the bounces will go. Everybody loves to play at home.”
This is not to say that Harvard has struggled on the road; rather, the team returns to Cambridge with a respectable winning record.
“I think this is probably the strongest start we have ever had from a pure basketball sense,” said coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. “The fact that we have a winning record is great, but the way we played against some national talent—I’m very pleased with it.”
The losses came at the hands of Colorado and Florida State, both prominent teams, and after Wednesday’s 94-47 drubbing of Central Connecticut which ended the five-game road trip, Harvard looked stronger than ever.
The Crimson held the Blue Devils to a 33.3 percent field-goal average, but equally impressive was the Harvard’s improved effort on the boards. The Crimson managed to snag four more rebounds than Central Connecticut—a marked improvement over its other recent performances.
In last Sunday’s loss to Florida State, a team with five players at 6’3 or above, Harvard was out-rebounded 33-18.
“I think that [Delaney-Smith] has made [rebounding] a big focus in practice,” Tubridy said. “We know we have the ability to out-rebound most of our opponents.”
This development bodes well for Harvard, especially as there is not a significant height different between the Lafayette and Crimson rosters—the Leopards have only two players who measure 6’3 or above.
Perhaps the most reassuring statistic to which Harvard can look is Lafayette’s 0-4 record. The Leopards have lost by an average of 20.3 points per game to open the season.
The Crimson has reason to be confident, then, as senior co-captain Hana Peljto is averaging 23.4 points per game all by herself. She is the team’s leading scorer by almost six points, but it is her on-court presence that makes her even more valuable.
“I’m just real pleased with what Hana does,” said Delaney-Smith. “She just finds different ways to get it done.”
In addition to scoring the game-winning shot in double overtime against Liberty last weekend, Peljto burned through Central Connecticut’s defense on Wednesday night with 26 points in only 20 minutes, a total almost three times that of the Blue Devil’s leading scorer.
“She ran the floor like I’ve never seen anyone run the floor,” said Delaney-Smith. “She did a great job.”
Peljto’s leadership, which she will surely bring to Lavietes Pavilion tomorrow night, will be necessary despite Lafayette’s winless record, for Harvard understands that history means nothing once a team is on the court.
“It’s sometimes hard to play a team [that] has no wins because you traditionally will take them lightly or maybe not play up to their potential,” said Delaney-Smith. “And that’s dangerous.”
The Crimson does, however, hold undeniable statistical advantages. While Harvard is shooting 49.1 percent of its field goals for the season, the Leopards hitting only 35.7 percent.
Moreover, while the Crimson lost the ball often during its first few games, its turnover rate has recently dropped to under 19 per game, while the Leopards still carry a woeful average of 26 turnovers per game.
Also hurting Lafayette recently has been the absence of two of its biggest scorers. Senior forward Colleen Fitzpatrick and sophomore guard Katie Kokolus began the season averaging 14 and 17.5 points per game, respectively. However, Fitzpatrick has not played the past two games, and Kokolus was absent in the Leopards’ most recent contest with a knee injury.
No matter what lineup Harvard faces, the squad will look to carry over the intensity displayed on its road trip.
“One of our goals this year is to focus on our game regardless of who our opponent is,” said Delaney-Smith, “and that includes playing Colorado or playing Lafayette. We’re focusing on our performance.”
Based on the Crimson’s performance Wednesday night, it that the team has found that focus. Now it’s time for Harvard to bring its game home.