But the Crimson (13-11, 6-5 Ivy) retained those hopes after a dominating win over Yale (6-19, 3-9 Ivy), only to watch them vanish with a disappointing loss to Brown (14-10, 7-5 Ivy).
Harvard plays at Princeton next Friday night and has the chance to play spoiler against league-leader Penn on Saturday.
Brown 95, Harvard 70
On Saturday, the pre-game ceremonies honored senior Bev Moore and co-captains Hana Peljto and Tricia Tubridy. Peljto had scored her 2,000th point the night before, Tubridy was one three-point basket away from having 100 for her career and all of the seniors had their families in attendance.
But despite the fanfare, the seniors’ perfect goodbye to Lavietes was not to be. The closest the Crimson came to the lead was a 2-2 tie 46 seconds into the game, followed by a sweeping left hook from Bears center Holly Robertson 42 seconds later that put Brown up for good.
With 16:51 left to go in the second half, coach Kathy Delaney-Smith took out the three seniors and the other two starters, replacing them with a younger lineup, not as a tribute to the departing players, but in hopes of turning the momentum that had given the Bears a 57-30 lead.
“I was pretty angry at that point. I’ll probably rethink the game and wonder whether I should have done it in the first half,” said Delaney-Smith.
The first senior to reenter the game was Peljto with 9:50 remaining, and the only thing left to do was to help Harvard make the game look at least respectable.
The Crimson began the night with a turnover off the tip, an ominous beginning to a sloppy game. Brown’s quick guards, Tanara Golston and Sarah Hayes, blanketed Harvard, forcing 17 turnovers.
The Bears’ backcourt also relentlessly pushed the ball up the floor before Harvard’s 2-3 zone could set up, earning easy layups. Even when the Crimson managed to set up its defense, Brown would turn to its primary weapon—the 6’5 Robertson.
Robertson scored 27 points and went 11-12 from the field, showcasing her ability to use both hands and dominate inside. All of Robertson’s points came from inside the paint except for one three pointer, the only trey the Bears made for the entire game. Brown had no reason to shoot from outside the arc, taking only three trey attempts compared to Harvard’s 24.
The Bears shot an amazing 67.9 percent for the game, much to the disappointment of Delaney-Smith.
“Brown played out of their minds,” Delaney-Smith said. “I thought we didn’t have the defensive intensity.”
The aggression that Delaney-Smith wanted from the start appeared in the final 10 minutes, after Harvard applied a full-court press and began to force turnovers. Brown looked uncomfortable for the first time in the game and Lavietes Pavilion was the loudest it had been all night.
Harvard 84, Yale 60
The previous night, the Crimson enjoyed a dominating victory against the Bulldogs and a rare milestone for one of the program’s greatest players. Peljto scored her 2,000th point with 18:37 left in the first half on a layup, assisted by Katie Murphy. The game stopped as her teammates rushed the court to give Peljto hugs and a bouquet of flowers.
“I was a little bit nervous before the game especially because it was just two, so I knew the first shot, everyone would be looking at me,” said Peljto, who finished with team highs of 23 points and nine rebounds. “I’m glad it was a breakaway layup so there was less chance of missing it. Once it was over, it was definitely a relief.”
Yale managed to keep the game close throughout the first half and closed Harvard’s lead to three, 37-34, with 1:17 left. But two steals by freshman center Christiana Lackner led to two fast break layups and gave the Crimson the momentum going into halftime. In the first two minutes of the second half, Harvard extended its lead to 10 points, forcing the Bulldogs to call a timeout. Yale narrowed the Crimson advantage to seven, but could get no closer as Harvard scored 10 unanswered points to push its lead to 17, 62-45.
The Crimson’s most difficult task was containing 6’3 freshman sensation Erica Davis. Davis had 17 points on 7-8 shooting, but Harvard managed to limit her touches and challenge her on defense.
Junior center Reka Cserny used her long reach and active feet to continually harass Davis, while Cserny’s offensive ability frustrated and exhausted the less conditioned Davis. Cserny drove to the basket, shot from outside and used the pick-and-roll on Davis as most NBA teams do to Shaquille O’Neal. Cserny finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.
When Cserny had to sit because of foul trouble, Lackner assumed defensive duties on Davis with the same intensity. Delaney-Smith used Lackner early and often to help stop Davis on Friday, though the freshman had previously averaged only 5.2 minutes over nine games.
“The reason I put her in a little more tonight is that she’s a very athletic, active, smart post defender and we needed to get around Erica Davis,” said Delaney-Smith.
The Crimson also played great team defense, forcing 22 turnovers while committing only 12.