W. Hoops Crowned Ivy Champion

W. basketball barely catches Columbia in final two minutes

Jessica E. Schumer

Freshman guard LAURA ROBINSON (2) and the rest of the Crimson women's basketball team stole a 78-74 victory from Columbia

Though it secured sole ownership of the Ivy League title with a victory over Cornell and Brown’s loss to Penn on Friday night, the Harvard women’s basketball team needed to beat Columbia on Saturday at Lavietes Pavilion in order to celebrate in style.

After jumping to an early 17-4 lead, the Lions (10-15, 3-9 Ivy) looked poised to spoil the night. But the Crimson (20-4, 12-0) fought back with a gutsy display of outside shooting.

Harvard 78, Columbia 74

Junior forward Tricia Tubridy hit a three with 1:34 left in the second-half to tie the game at 70, and a trey from junior point guard Bev Moore and five free throws gave Harvard the 78-74 victory. With the triumph, the Crimson set a school record with 14 consecutive wins.

“We had the weight of the world on our shoulders because we knew we were cutting the nets down tonight,” said Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith.

“If we had lost the ballgame we would have gone through the motions, but it wouldn’t have been fun.”

The Crimson struggled to find its feet early in the game, shooting just 18 percent during the first six and a half minutes and giving up easy looks to Columbia.

“My worst fears came true at the beginning of the game,” Delaney-Smith said. “There’s no way we should have won the game the way we played.”

Harvard faltered defensively and had trouble containing Lions guard Sue Altman, a transfer from Holy Cross who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.

The Crimson managed to keep the game within reach by shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc for the game and 95.5 percent from the free-throw line in the second half. Sophomore center Reka Cserny was 12-for-12 from the charity stripe and finished with 17 points.

After trailing by as much as 13 points in the second half, Harvard reeled Columbia in over the final six minutes. Junior forward Hana Peljto hit a three-pointer with 3:55 remaining to make it a one possession game at 68-65. Tubridy’s three tied the game for the first time since the 13:11 mark of the first half, and Moore’s trifecta put the Crimson ahead for good with a minute to play.

“I feel pretty lucky that the three went in, because I didn’t know it would,” said Tubridy, who was celebrating her 21st birthday. “I knew Bev’s was good, though. She took the ball, looked right at the basket, thought for about a second, and then shot it. I just threw it up at the end of the shot clock.”

While the game was a little too close for comfort, it still made for a thrilling finish, especially as Harvard has rarely been challenged late in the game this Ivy season.

“Champions are made of what we did tonight,” Delaney-Smith said. “It really couldn’t have been any uglier.”

Harvard 61, Cornell 47

The Crimson could not prevent Cornell leading scorer Karen Force from accounting for all of the Big Red’s offense in the first 13:22 of Friday’s game. The problem for Cornell (9-16, 4-8) was that Harvard’s defense limited Force to just three points during that stretch.

The Crimson jumped out to a 19-3 lead in the first 10 minutes and the Big Red did not come any closer than eight points for the rest of the night as Harvard coasted to a 61-47 victory.

Though Cornell pounded Peljto inside and shut out the Ivy’s leading scorer for the game’s first 13 minutes, the Crimson nevertheless burst ahead thanks to its outside play, as Tubridy and sophomore guard Rochelle Bell each hit a pair of zone-busting threes.

The victory was Harvard’s largest over the Big Red since the 1999-2000 season. Cornell had been a thorn in the Crimson’s side of late, especially in the teams’ last two meetings. A year ago, Harvard needed double overtime to get past the Big Red by a 77-75 margin, while two weeks ago, the Crimson blew a 17-point halftime lead before pulling out a 77-71 victory.

“They play tough defense and they’re always very excited to beat us, so to beat them by this much is great,” said Peljto, who ultimately led Harvard with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Though the Crimson didn’t allow Cornell to come close, Delaney-Smith said her team showed shades of recent performances against the Big Red Friday night. Harvard’s 29.3-percent shooting was its worst in Ivy play this year. Delaney-Smith had hoped for better results now that the team has been taking Mondays off, but there were still signs of wear and tear.

“For us to lose intensity, which is what happened to us [after the first 10 minutes], we had no emotion, no energy,” Delaney-Smith said. “That shouldn’t happen at this time of the season.”

One positive Delaney-Smith noted was that Harvard stayed with Cornell even when she had four of her younger players on the court.

Regardless of who was in the game, the Crimson defense stayed in control. Force led all scorers with 19 points, but the Big Red shot just 28.6 percent from the floor.

Harvard travels to Yale and Brown next weekend to close out the regular season. Then the countdown begins to March 16, when the Crimson will learn its NCAA Tournament seed.

—Staff writer David R. De Remer can be reached at remer@fas.harvard.edu.