The Crimson (8-12, 6-1 Ivy) returned to Lavietes Pavilion over the weekend to play its first league home games of the season.
Harvard entered play tied with Princeton for first place in the Ancient Eight, but it walked out of the arena as the sole team atop the rankings.
In its first home game since December 21, the Crimson squared off against the Tigers to determine the No. 1 team in the conference. Tough defense and sharp shooting made the homecoming even sweeter for the Crimson who ran away with a 80-55 blowout victory over Princeton.
The next day, Harvard asserted its position as first in the Ivies with hard-earned 87-74 triumph over Penn.
Harvard will be back at home next Friday and Saturday to face Brown and Yale.
That effort held the Tigers to a disappointing 36.7 shooting percentage for the game.
HARVARD 87, PENN 74
Although the hype surrounding the night was not as great as the previous game, the match-up against the Quakers (8-12, 3-4) was just as important. After claiming first place on Friday, the Crimson women looked to assert their dominance over the Ivy League.
“I’m happy to be in the sole spot, but this can’t be bigger than anything else,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “Every game has to be same.”
The women did just that, thanks to a career night by sophomore Niki Finelli. The guard was 6-of-7 from the field—with all of the baskets coming from beyond the arc—and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Despite entering the game fourth in the league standings, Penn proved to be a tough opponent to overcome. Harvard maintained a slim advantage after opening the game with a 4-0 run. However, two back-to-back three-pointers by the Quakers changed that.
The Penn lead would be just as short-lived, however. Baskets by junior Lindsay Hallion and sophomore Katie Rollins, including a three-point play by Hallion, put the Crimson up 16-8 at the 14:34 mark.
Harvard held on to a 47-41 advantage heading to the locker room and set to work extending the lead. The Quakers pulled within four after the break but two consecutive threes by Finelli halted the Penn comeback.
Sparked by these shots, the Crimson slowly built its advantage as the period continued.
Solid shooting by sophomore guard Emily Tay, who was 7-of-12 from the field, along with a 5-of-6 effort by Hallion, helped keep the Quakers at bay until the final ticks of the game.
The Crimson shot a collective 56 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.
HARVARD 80, PRINCETON 55
Both the Crimson and the Tigers (10-11, 4-3) entered Lavietes on Friday tied for first in the Ivy League, but the top only has enough room for one team. With the two squads facing off, only one would leave with the coveted spot.
After the final whistle sounded, the rightful owner of the top position was clear. Harvard was firmly planted in the driver’s seat the entire time, as the Crimson led Princeton from start to finish to claim a definitive victory.
“I think we played pretty well overall,” Hallion said. “We did a good job containing their scorers and did well on defense, but we need to continue to improve.”
Hallion posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting to help lift Harvard over the Tigers.
An exceptional team performance created offense for the Crimson, while strong defense on the other end stifled Princeton’s own offensive output.
Defense proved to be Harvard’s greatest strength, as the Crimson forced 21 turnovers and 12 steals.
“I liked our defense. That’s been our focus,” Delaney-Smith said. “Right now, I think we have a great defensive team. We were doing some stuff that took their comfort level away from them.”
—Staff writer Vincent R. Oletu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.