Before the season started, Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith was quick to admit that this year’s women’s basketball team lacked the star power that former standouts Hana Peljto ’04 and Reka Cserny ’05 gave it. In the absence of superstars, Delaney-Smith said, the Crimson would opt for balance—and Harvard did just that in Friday’s 77-58 romp over Penn.
Eleven players scored in the Crimson’s most balanced output of the season, with senior guard Laura Robinson and sophomore guard Lindsay Hallion leading the charge with 11 points a piece.
After an initial slow start, Harvard put together some of its finest team offense of the season, demonstrating flawless ball movement and stepping up the defensive pressure to create transition on offense.
“It was a team effort—a lot of fun,” Harvard co-captain Maureen McCaffery said. “Everybody came to play.”
The most impressive night might have belonged to sophomore Lauren Fried, a sparsely used reserve guard who scored seven points in seven minutes. Freshman forward Niki Finelli, continuing her recent hot streak, contributed eight points.
Senior co-captain Jessica Holsey saw her first action since the Ivy opener against Dartmouth on Jan. 7. Holsey, the Crimson’s returning leading scorer from last season, has been benched with various maladies, including an injury to her shooting hand and the lingering effects of a concussion incurred during intersession.
Holsey played just six minutes, but the brief flashes of her ability were enough to demonstrate just what Harvard had missed in the eight conference games the team played without her.
In those six minutes, Holsey amassed three big assists and a steal and was critical to the Crimson’s first-half turnaround.
“You can see what we’ve missed,” Delaney-Smith said. “If we had had her—she’s just big. She’s our marquee player that we’re missing. We’re a different team without her.”
A LACKNER SHOWDOWN
Harvard junior forward Christiana Lackner is always aggressive on the glass, but the Pittsburgh, Penn., native had more incentive to crash the glass against the Quakers on Friday.
Lackner’s sister, Katarina, is a freshman forward at Penn, and the two squared off on the low block throughout the game on Friday.
The younger Lackner hit double digits with 10 points, but the elder and scrappier Christiana was in typical form in the rebounding column, ripping down three offensive rebounds and totaling seven, besting her sister’s three boards.
Harvard’s home contest with Penn began in a fashion that was almost eerily identical to that displayed in the teams’ showdown in Philadelphia, when the Quakers sprinted out to an early lead on hot shooting beyond the arc.
Penn guard Joey Rhoads nailed four three-pointers within the game’s first nine minutes, including two back-to-back, to turn a 2-2 game into an 8-2 Penn lead. In Philadelphia, the Quakers’ Monica Naltner hit three early three-pointers to put Penn up eight early.
But just as Penn built early leads behind hot shooting from the perimeter, so too did the lead evaporate both times when the Quakers turned cold. After Rhoads’ four threes, Penn went 0-of-14 for the rest of the half. In the second frame, the Quakers were just 2-of-13 from beyond the arc.
“They aren’t a good outside shooting team,” Delaney-Smith said. “[In Philadelphia], they hit out of their mind things that were not in the scouting report. They can take the three but their statistics don’t lead you to be nervous about their three.”
A DIFFERENT TAKE ON THINGS
This season marks the first time in a while that Harvard has been out of the Ivy Title hunt with two weeks remaining in the season. The Crimson has won two of the last three titles and finished in a tie for second in 2003-04, but the deadly Ivy League split—Harvard has swept just one weekend during the conference schedule—will keep the Crimson out of contention for the crown.
“I’m not quite used to this,” Delaney-Smith said. “I really haven’t had very many years where we weren’t in the title hunt. It’s very odd to me. We’ve never been out of it this early, and it makes me hungrier for next year.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.