The Harvard women’s basketball team (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) was denied a share of its third straight Ivy League title last night at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H., falling to 2009 champion Dartmouth (18-10, 12-1), 64-51.
“They’re a championship team, and we didn’t play like one tonight,” senior forward Katie Rollins said.
The Big Green, having clinched at least a share of the Ancient Eight crown after a win over Brown last Saturday, was in control throughout the contest. The story of the game was the Dartmouth frontcourt, for which the Crimson was prepared after a physical loss in January, but for which it ultimately had no answer the second time around. The team numbers told the story: the Big Green finished with 51 rebounds, including 20 on the offensive glass, to Harvard’s 27.
Dartmouth was led down low by sophomore Brittney Smith, who converted seemingly every chance she had in the paint and had Harvard’s forwards in foul trouble early and throughout. Smith finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, and two blocks in a dominant low-post effort. Co-captain Koren Schram chipped in 18 points.
“Our scouting report was to shut down [Smith] and [Schram],” Rollins said. “If you can’t execute your scout, you can’t really expect to win the game.”
The Big Green entered the game as the defensive specialist, and it certainly lived up to its billing in disrupting the Crimson’s offensive scheme from start to finish. Harvard expected to counter Smith with some star power of its own, but co-captain Emily Tay, who poured in a career-high 34 points last Saturday against Yale, was held to just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and didn’t score her first basket until 12 minutes remained in the contest.
The breakneck pace of last night’s game would tend to favor Harvard’s running offense, but instead it led to turnovers and quick, one-and-done possessions.
“[Tay] played maybe her worst game of the year,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “She took some bad shots, made some bad decisions, and maybe her teammates saw panic in her.”
Sophomore Emma Markley, one of the Crimson’s most consistent scorers on the season, struggled to double digits with 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Freshman point guard Brogan Berry led the team with 12 points, but neither she nor Tay was in typical playmaking form against the Big Green’s stingy defense.
Harvard stayed within striking distance until the final few minutes of the game, but was never able to pull closer than nine points down the stretch. Berry’s three-point play with 9:54 left cut the deficit to seven and might have ignited a run, but Dartmouth’s Darcy Rose quickly responded with one of the Big Green’s many layups on the other end, and Schram followed with a three a minute later to push the lead to 12.
Harvard’s usually high-powered attack didn’t expect to meet its match in Dartmouth, but while the Crimson struggled for shots and rarely converted them, the Big Green put three players in double figures and shot 41 percent for the game. The difference? From start to finish, rebounding.
“The rebounding is the one single factor we have control of, but we’re just not a good rebounding team,” Delaney-Smith said. “[Dartmouth] had 20 offensive rebounds in one game? We cannot win that game.”
After being outrebounded by a 33-13 margin in the first half, the Crimson was lucky to be down only seven as it headed into the locker room for halftime. But it knew it would need an offensive spark and stronger defense down low, and it didn’t get either one. Berry hit a jumper right out of the gate, but a quick layup from Smith and a three from Schram pushed the lead back to 10 and nearly blew the roof off Leede Arena.
Schram, a fixture in the Big Green backcourt since her sophomore season, had a memorable night in her last game in Hanover. With a late-game three that brought the Dartmouth faithful to its feet, the senior passed the 1,000-point mark for her career in Hanover.
While the Big Green awaits its placement in the NCAA Tournament with its automatic bid as conference winners, Harvard has accepted an invitation to play in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The location and opponent of its first-round matchup will be announced next Monday night, and the game will take place either March 18, 19 or 20.
The Crimson will be grateful for another chance to play its last game of the season, but this one will leave a sour taste in its mouth long after the 2009 campaign is officially over.
“I’d love to make my kids feel better,” Delaney-Smith said, “but unfortunately, in the biggest game of the season, we played our worst.”
—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.