The Harvard women’s basketball team (8-6) will look to set the tone for the new year as it faces perennial Ivy League rival Dartmouth (3-9) in its league opener at home tomorrow afternoon.
The Big Green ended any hopes of a Crimson postseason run last year, handing the team a season-ending 68-62 loss in a playoff to determine the league’s automatic NCAA bid. A win by Harvard this time around would build momentum for a team striving for its third straight Ivy title.
But it won’t be easy.
While Dartmouth’s non-conference record may not accurately reflect its capability on the court, looks can be deceiving.
“We don’t look at non-conference records; they’re almost meaningless,” Crimson coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “They played a really strong non-conference schedule, and I’m sure they’re feeling prepared for Ivies.”
“It doesn’t matter what our records are,” co-captain Niki Finelli said. “Every time we play Dartmouth, it’s always 40 minutes of hard basketball.”
The Crimson finished off its non-conference schedule with a thrilling 78-72 victory in overtime against Northeastern on Dec. 31.
Four players finished in double figures, including Finelli with a game-high 18 points.
The team had a hot-shooting hand, draining 50 percent of its shots from behind the arc.
Even with reading period in full swing and final exams looming, many of the players on the team feel no lack of motivation for such an important game.
“We really don’t have time during reading period besides playing basketball and doing work,” Finelli said. “It’s tough, because you really have to stay focused. It’s a stressful period, but I think the fact that this is such a big game to start [conference play], our adrenaline gets so high because the game means so much for ourselves and this program.”
Similarly, Delaney-Smith believes that reading period won’t have a detrimental effect on her players.
“It’s easier to put in practices with reading period,” Delaney-Smith said. “In my estimation, it is valuable time spent on tweaking things and making adjustments. We’re not going to be rusty. Besides, when aren’t class conflicts, papers, and review sessions ever a factor?”
Harvard will definitely have its hands full as it matches up against an agile but physical opponent in Dartmouth.
The Big Green’s leading scorers are senior guard Koren Schram and sophomore forward Brittney Smith, who have 12.8 and 12.4 points per game respectively.
Together, the two standout players forge a strong offensive attack that can be extremely lethal from behind the arc. The Crimson must find a way to stop Schram, who has taken 90 three-point attempts so far this season and connected on 34 percent of them.
“[Dartmouth] runs one of the best motion offenses in the country,” Delaney-Smith said. “They’re very athletic and very good at moving and connecting with each other.”
While Dartmouth relies on outside shooting and a fluid motion offense, Harvard will look to capitalize on the strength of its inside game, averaging almost 40 rebounds a contest.
To do this, however, the Crimson must be able to move the ball up the court, striking a balance between the fast-break game and penetration in the lane.
Should the team be successful in doing that, look for sophomore forward Emma Markley and co-captain guard Emily Tay to take care of the scoring.
The two players lead the team with 14.1 and 10.4 points per game respectively.
“We’ve been working a lot on the defensive end. We need to make sure we play collective team defense, pushing the ball and working on our transition game, so we can get some fast-break points and really play our game,” Finelli said.
Though tomorrow’s game may not have any foreseeable implications just yet, the stakes have never been higher for a season opener.
“Dartmouth is our biggest rival in the league,” Finelli said. “We have to come out aggressively and outwork them on the floor if we want a shot at victory.” Coach Delaney-Smith put it best.
“We’ve battled each other for titles for so many of the past years,” she said. “I’m pretty sure they’re the same Dartmouth team as they’ve been the last twenty years.” —Staff writer Kevin T. Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.