As the Harvard women’s basketball team learned Saturday night, no matter the school sitting on the other bench and no matter its record or rank, every game will be intense.
“You can’t take anyone lightly in the Ivy League now,” sophomore Victoria Lippert said. “Every game is for the Ivy League championship, so there can’t be any letdowns, from playing Princeton to playing Penn. We have to bring it every night because everyone is coming at us.”
Hosting Penn (7-12, 1-4 Ivy) at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson (13-6, 5-0) needed two overtime periods to secure an 88-84 victory and maintain its undefeated league record. The Quakers, ranked sixth in the Ancient Eight, kept the score close for most of the game, until Harvard junior Brogan Berry made three free throws in the last seconds to put the game out of Penn’s reach.
“We didn’t expect the game to be this close,” senior Emma Markley said. “I don’t know what attributed to that; it could be fatigue from last night [against Princeton], but we were definitely back on our heels for awhile. It’s not going to happen again.”
Harvard started play with a quick 11-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but after a nine-point run by Penn rookie Alyssa Baron, the Quakers stood within one. Later in the half, the Crimson grabbed five unanswered points in a span of 19 seconds, setting the score at 29-19. But Baron again retaliated, cutting Harvard’s lead to one point going into halftime.
“I thought we should have played a little better,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We were gassed in the middle portions. You can’t have those lapses. I think there was some periods in the first half where I thought we just didn’t play tough.”
In the second half, both squads continued to trade baskets until Markley scored three straight points to put the Crimson ahead, 55-50. As for Baron and the Quakers, the freshman led Penn on a 14-0 run midway through the second half. After Lippert drained a three to stop Penn’s momentum, Harvard returned fire with an 11-point run of its own.
“We did everything we thought [to guard Baron], and then we had breakdowns,” Delaney-Smith said. “She’s a great little player, this was a great game, and she did a great job. We will go back to the drawing table and figure something out.”
The Crimson seemed to have the game with 22 seconds left on the clock and a 72-69 advantage, but thanks to Harvard fouls and Baron’s free throw, Penn tied it up at 72 with 10 seconds left. A missed shot by Lippert in the final three seconds allowed the game to go into overtime
“That was our mindset [going into overtime],” Lippert said. “We’re not going to lose this game. We refuse to lose.”
The first overtime started slow with neither team finding the basket. The Quakers continuously hit the rim, while the Crimson missed crucial passes. Penn took advantage of Harvard’s mistakes, stripping the ball from Lippert for a layup and the first two points of overtime. Lippert redeemed herself by making the next two free throws to tie the score once more.
Like in the Columbia contest a week before, Crimson freshman Christine Clark had the opportunity to win the game for Harvard with a last-second shot, but this time the ball bounced off of the rim and hit a Quaker falling out of bounds. Clark sent the sideline pass to a guarded Markley underneath the basket, but the senior—who had 21 points on the night—wasn’t able to convert, leaving the score tied.
“Going into double overtime can be pretty exhausting, but I felt a lot of love, a lot of support from the bench,” Markley said. “We were there for each other even when things got really hectic and confusing and pretty nerve-wracking.”
In the second overtime, the Crimson gained its composure despite the pressure, taking an 85-82 lead before Baron scored two for Penn. Baron’s foul on Berry, though, sent her out of the game and led the way for Berry to score the free throws that put Harvard ahead for good.
Although another victory for the Crimson, the close score and extra minutes of play reminded the Harvard squad that during the Ivy season, every team is going to come out playing its best.
“Now that it’s Ivy League season, we have to be able to sustain our energy after Friday into Saturday night,” Markley said, “and learn the lesson that every game counts. You have no idea who’s going to come out and give it to you the next game, because everyone’s in it this year.”
—Staff writer Alex Sopko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.