Bulldogs, Bears Up Next For Surging Crimson

After its thrilling run to the Ivy League title and a place in the NCAA Tournament last season, the Harvard women’s basketball team should have no regrets about 2007. And with its current league campaign off to a hot start once again, it should have every part of last season behind it. Right?

But there was that one night in New Haven. While Yale went just 5-9 in league competition last season, one of its wins was the only blemish on the Crimson’s otherwise spotless Ivy slate. After winning a thrilling opener at Dartmouth, the Crimson was a little sluggish out of the final exams gate in late January, dropping an eight-point decision in New Haven. Harvard reeled off 12 straight wins following that loss, but the “L” in its loss column just wouldn’t go away.

For the first time in this year’s young Ivy season, Harvard will have its chance at revenge: Yale visits Lavietes Pavilion tonight, with Brown coming to Cambridge tomorrow night. Tip-offs are scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. and tomorrow night at 6 p.m., respectively.

In 2008, the Crimson shouldn’t need any extra motivation when the Bulldogs come to town. Yale is coming off its first Ivy loss of 2008—a 62-54 decision to Cornell in Ithaca—but at 3-1 sits in a four-way tie atop the Ancient Eight standings with Harvard, Dartmouth, and the Big Red.

Last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, six-foot sophomore Melissa Colburne and her 15.4 points per game lead the way for the Bulldogs. On paper, Colburne is a traditional post player—she’s in the Ancient Eight top ten in both blocks and offensive rebounds—but Yale’s strength lies in its players’ versatility, and Harvard just hopes to keep up.

“They’re definitely an unusual team,” said co-captain Jessica Knox, “so it’s been an unusual prep week in that we’re all kind of playing every position.”

Freshmen Lindsey Williams and Mady Gobrecht have been pleasant surprises for the Bulldogs—both rookies are pulling down over six rebounds per game for Yale. The Crimson will have to continue its strong efforts on the boards—last weekend, it out-rebounded Princeton by 20—if it wants to keep up with the high-scoring Bulldogs. On paper, Harvard’s offense may be too much for Yale, which allows the most points per game of any team in the Ancient Eight.

But coach Kathy Delaney-Smith insists that Bulldogs coach Chris Gobrecht always has her teams prepared defensively.

“They play a scrappy man-to-man defense, and they’re way more aggressive in the passing lanes than a lot of other teams we see,” Delaney-Smith said. “We have to be more selective about our choice to go inside, because they’re going to try to minimize those touches.”

Brown, on the other hand, can boast only one win on the season as it comes into Lavietes this weekend. It sits at or near the back of the league pack in almost every major team category, and does not have a scorer averaging double figures. The Bears will need to use their stingy defense against the three if they hope to keep up with Harvard—the Crimson is making a third of its shots from long range this season, and rained down on Princeton last weekend in a blowout win.

But very recent history warns the Crimson against overlooking the Bears as it looks ahead to the Bulldogs. Last weekend, Harvard faced a struggling Penn team and the perennial powerhouse Tigers on consecutive nights, and needed a game-winning jumper from junior guard Emily Tay to escape with a win over the Quakers. The next night, it had little trouble putting Princeton away early.

“We have the target on our backs, so we expect them to come out firing,” Knox said. “In a league where we don’t have a tournament before NCAAs, every game, every night, is like a tournament game. If you drop one, your fight to win is that much harder.”

“What I keep thinking about is that last year, we were 1-13 at one point and a darn good team,” Delaney-Smith said of last season’s slow start out of the gate. “We have to make both games equally important.”

The Crimson will look to Tay to keep up her recent scoring run. The reigning Ivy League Player of the Week, the junior poured 36 in Harvard’s two wins last weekend.

“We need to pay attention to what we do, so we haven’t been emphasizing our opponents as much we’re emphasizing us,” Delaney-Smith said. “We need to be patient on offense—that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Knox echoed her coach’s insistence on offensive discipline, adding that “it’ll help us in the long run.”

The Crimson is now in the heat of the Ivy season. The “long run” begins tonight.

—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at ecunning@fas.harvard.edu.

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