As the Harvard women’s basketball team shakes off the loss that ended its five-game win streak and prepares for the second half of Ivy League play, it will have to remember one thing: hold onto the ball.
The Crimson has averaged over 18 turnovers a game this season and has committed more than 20 turnovers in five of its eight losses (and, surprisingly, in three of its 13 wins). The final numbers from this weekend’s pair of games paint a picture of a generally poor ball-handling effort for the Crimson—the team turned the ball over 19 times in Friday night’s win and 20 in Saturday night’s loss. But it was the 16 first-half turnovers in Saturday’s game that spelled disaster for Harvard.
The Lions’ stifling full-court pressure forced sloppy play from Crimson guards and post players alike. Harvard’s porous fast-break defense didn’t help its cause, as Columbia was able to convert easy buckets and set up its press. During one three-minute stretch early on, the Crimson turned the ball over five times.
When the first-half buzzer sounded and Harvard headed to the locker room down just six, it seemed to have weathered a storm of its own making.
“Usually when we have a game like this, we’re down and there’s no emotion,” co-captain Emily Tay said. “But in the locker room, it was very positive, we were ready to go at it again in the second half.”
After the break, Harvard settled down and established its 2-1-2 press-break scheme with effectiveness—it turned the ball over just four times after halftime.
“We changed nothing [at halftime], absolutely nothing,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We just reminded them of what they’re supposed to be doing. We just played frenetic in the first half.”
But turnovers didn’t directly cost the Crimson its sixth-straight win Saturday. After a stellar first half of shooting, poor shooting in the second left Harvard trading leads with Columbia throughout the second half and unable to convert on a chance to win in its final possession. The home team converted 60 percent of its attempts from the floor, including a 7-for-11 performance from sophomore forward Emma Markley.
Turnovers may have sealed the Crimson’s fate Saturday night, but spotty officiating—especially down the stretch—didn’t help either.
Two debatable calls with under 30 seconds to play in the game swung in the Lions’ favor, and Delaney-Smith and the Crimson were left scratching their heads.
Down by one, Harvard put together a disciplined defensive possession that included an inbounds play from Columbia after an offensive rebound and timeout. But freshman Brogan Berry was called for a foul on the Lions’ Lauren Dywer as the shot clock buzzer sounded.
After Dwyer made one of two, Berry’s drive to the hoop—which included plenty of contact—came and went without a whistle. Berry’s miss sealed the three-point victory for Columbia.
“You’re going to call that? Then call that,” Delaney-Smith said, pointing first to the spot on the floor where Berry was called for the personal, then to the spot of the Crimson’s failed final possession. “I say don’t call either, but just do the same thing at both ends.
Questionable calls throughout the game upset Delaney-Smith, Columbia coach Paul Nixon, and fans on both sides.
“The officials were bad,” Tay said, “but they were probably bad both ways.”
The league’s top-two three-point shooting teams took turns launching shots from longe range Friday evening at Lavietes. Cornell and Harvard finished the weekend first and second in the rankings with .336 and .332 three-point percentages, respectively.
But while the Big Red stuck with its bread and butter to mixed success, the Crimson took just eight threes and chose to focus on its defense.
Already leading by eight points at the break, the Crimson played lock-down defense on the perimeter to retain control. The Big Red shot just 4-of-15 from distance after halftime—before she hit her first three with 6:11 to play in the game, Cornell guard Allie Fedorowicz had been 0-7 from beyond the arc. Harvard converted just one of two three-pointers in the second half, but it was a big one—after the Big Red seemed ready for a final push, Berry drilled a three to push the lead back up to 11 with under five minutes to play. Cornell never got within single digits again.
The departure of former Big Red forward and 2008 Ivy Player of the Year Jeomi Maduka and injury to Crimson forward Katie Rollins meant a different style of play from the physical nature of last year’s games between the co-defending champions.
Cornell stayed home on Harvard shooters Berry, sophomore Christine Matera, and co-captain Niki Finelli, and Markley took advantage of the wide-open lane to the tune of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Claire Wheeler added nine boards of her own, including four on the offensive glass.
—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.