As reigning champions, the second-place Crimson must win all four remaining games to have a chance of retaining their crown. In their last two home games of the season, Harvard (15-9, 8-2 Ivy) enters a decisive phase.
Tomorrow, the eyes of the Ivies will turn to Lavietes Pavilion—second place hosts first place as league-leader Cornell (17-6, 9-1) faces the Crimson. Tonight, Harvard faces the challenge of fourth-place Columbia (9-15, 6-4)—a contest of equal importance.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “Saturday’s game is not more important than Friday’s game for us.”
Harvard heads into this double header as winners of three straight games and eight of its last nine. Last weekend saw Harvard record its 15th sweep in series history, rising to the challenges of Princeton and Penn with resounding victories.
Junior Katie Rollins, named Ivy League co-Player of the Week after last weekend’s spectacular haul of 42 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, has now scored 20 points or more in each of her last three games.
Rollins spearheads a dynamic Crimson offense, leading the team in average points per game with 11.3. Co-captain Lindsay Hallion and junior Emily Tay are averaging 10.8 and 10.5 points per game, respectively, while senior Adrian Budischak reinforces the offense with a team-high 5.2 rebounds per game.
“You can expect a lot of fight and a lot of hard work,” Hallion said. “Every game is a championship game for us, so we’re going to play that way.”
Harvard approaches this weekend with history on its side, boasting a 91-12 combined all-time record versus Columbia and Cornell. The Crimson’s home record is equally formidable: in 52 games played between Harvard and this weekend’s opponents at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson has only lost once.
In 30 contests, Harvard has never fallen at home to the Big Red. However, Cornell already has the upper hand in this season’s Ivy League championship race, having beaten the Crimson 85-61 in February. It was Harvard’s last defeat and, as a 24-point reverse, its heaviest of the season.
“They [Cornell] have had a great season,” Delaney-Smith said. “They have a great record, and have everybody back from last year.”
In the middle of an eight-game winning streak, recent success has generated a belief that Cornell can secure the first Ivy League championship in the program’s history.
Leading the Big Red charge is 6’2 junior Jeomi Maduka, averaging 14.1 points per game and 40 points shy of becoming the 11th player in Cornell women’s basketball history to reach the 1,000-point plateau. Last weekend, Maduka averaged 15.5 points, 10. 5 rebounds, one assist and one steal in two games against Brown and Yale.
The Crimson tips off against the Big Red at 6 p.m. tomorrow—and the stakes could not be higher.
But if the game against Cornell is to mean anything in the Ancient Eight championship race, Harvard must first defeat Columbia.
The Lions have lost the last 15 match-ups with the Crimson, its most recent defeat coming earlier this month in the form of a 73-65 loss.
When Harvard tips off against Columbia at 7 p.m. tonight at Lavietes Pavilion, they must beware of the Lions’ potential bite.
“We’re in a position fighting for first place, and they [Columbia] have nothing to lose,” Delaney-Smith said. “That set of factors makes it a very dangerous game for us.”
Having equalled a program-best six Ivy League wins, Columbia will look to
senior captain Michele Gage for inspiration against the Crimson. The Lions’ leading scorer with 11.6 points per game, Gage has scored in double figures in seven straight games.
On the eve of the biggest weekend of Harvard’s season thus far, Delaney-Smith is hoping for history to repeat itself.
“A few years ago, we sold out the place. It was packed, and it was a snowy night. We were playing for the Ivy League, and if we didn’t have such phenomenal fan support—cheering, standing, pounding, screaming—I honestly believe we would not have won that title,” Delaney-Smith said. “We’re trying to muster that kind of support again this weekend.”
Harvard holds its destiny in its own hands. Come the end of this weekend, the Crimson hopes to have tighten its grip.