Harvard (8-8, 0-1 Ivy) will look to shake off a Jan. 10 loss in its home opener to perennial rival Dartmouth when it continues conference play at Penn (3-12, 0-1) and Princeton (6-9, 1-0) this weekend. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight in Philadelphia and tomorrow night at 6 p.m. in Princeton.
In case the Crimson needed reminding, the Big Green reinforced the fierce, any-given-night competition that has characterized the Ivy League in recent years. While this weekend’s opponents are likely a season away from being named among the league’s elite, Harvard repeats its mantra of treating every game like a conference championship—especially after having already dropped one game.
“I have enormous confidence in our talent, but then we have a game like Dartmouth and that kind of sets you back on your heels,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said.
On Friday night, history favors the Crimson—Harvard has won the last nine meetings between the two teams and the last seven in Philadelphia. 2009 wouldn’t seem to be the year that the tides turn for Penn, which lost its first six games of the season and has lost its last five. Still, the Crimson knows better than to take the three-win Quakers lightly. Last season, it took an Emily Tay jumper with 14 seconds remaining to steal a one-point win over Penn at Lavietes Pavilion.
“Penn is very physical and playing in their house is always one of our toughest games,” co-captain Niki Finelli said. “Right now, every team in the Ivy League is really dangerous and you have to respect them.”
Senior forward Carrie Biemer, who leads her team in points (18.5) and rebounds (5.5) per game, is the show for the Quakers.
The dramatic change in this year’s Princeton lineup is the absence of former Ivy League Player of the Year forward Meagan Cowher, who graduated last year.
“It’s pretty nice [not to face her], but it doesn’t make defense easier—just different,” Finelli said. “When you face a player of that caliber, you focus all your defense on that one person. With their more balanced team, we just all have to worry about our matchups and back each other up on the floor.”
The Crimson will have to contend with a few very athletic Tiger guards. Sophomore Addie Micir (12 ppg) and freshman Lauren Edwards (9.7 ppg) are a pair of six-footers who can score inside and out. Princeton beat Penn, 64-49, in the first Ivy matchup for both teams on Jan. 10.
In both games, Harvard should have the advantage inside. Neither opponent has a dominant post corps to match up with Crimson forwards Emma Markley, Katie Rollins, and Claire Wheeler, so Harvard should score in bunches if it is able to work in the ball into the paint. Finding open looks will be especially important against Princeton, which enters the weekend with the best defense in the Ivies (59.9 ppg).
With all the advantages on paper, the main challenge for Harvard should be mental. The Crimson must shake off two weeks of exam period rust, which Delaney-Smith insisted shouldn’t be an issue.
“If there is a disadvantage, we’re going to get through it,” she said.
More of a factor will be Harvard’s response to the loss that opened conference play on a low note. All signs point to the team using that loss as a springboard for a trying upcoming stretch, which includes the next four games on the road.
“We’ve kind of become revitalized, and we’re remembering how much that Dartmouth game stung,” Finelli said. “That’s giving us an extra motivation going into this weekend and lighting a fire under us and getting us energized. It’s the beginning of a huge second half of the season for us.”
—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.