The Harvard women’s basketball team will look to extend its winning streak to four games this Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Crimson (3-1) will face the University of Michigan (3-1) for the first time in program history.
The matchup against the Wolverines comes as part of a two-game Michigan road trip that will end the following day when Harvard plays Eastern Michigan (1-2) at the EMU Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“We’re facing two opponents we’ve never faced before which is good for us in the sense that they don’t know much about us either,” co-captain Emma Golen said. “We definitely have a lot of momentum going in to play two big schools in bigger arenas in front of a lot of people. We’re pretty confident right now and excited to go on the road.”
The Crimson has built that momentum with three straight victories against North Dakota, BYU, and Holy Cross, the last of which came on Tuesday when Harvard topped the Crusaders, 80-62.
Michigan comes into the battle just as hot after a resounding 72-29 win over Seton Hall on Monday. The game set a new NCAA-era program record for fewest points allowed. The Wolverines have held opponents to an average of 50.8 points per game while averaging 61.
The starting squad that helped rout Seton Hall was made up of five players who have started every game for Michigan: guards Brenae Harris, Jenny Ryan, Nicole Elmblad, and Kate Thompson, and forward Rachel Sheffer.
Sheffer has led the team in scoring this season with an average of 16.3 points per game and double-digit performances in all four contests thus far. The senior has made 59 percent of her field goal attempts and 56 percent of her three-pointers. She has also grabbed 24 defensive rebounds and handed out 12 assists.
Second in scoring for the Wolverines is Thompson, who has netted an average of 14 points per game and hit 14 treys this season. The senior drilled five threes against Seton Hall en route to a career-best 19 points.
At 6’4”, the guard also leads the team in blocks, with eight. Her height poses an issue for the Crimson, who only has two players above 6’1”: forward Temi Fagbenle, who matches Thompson at 6’4”, and 6’2” forward Marissa Brock, who has yet to see game action this season.
Harvard arrives at Michigan's Crisler Center looking to earn its best start since the 2004-05 season with a win over the Wolverines.
Against the Crusaders Tuesday, Harvard began slow, trading off leads until a third three by Crimson guard Christine Clark put her team up, 15-12, with 10:38 remaining in the first period. From there, Harvard retained the lead for the rest of the game and defeated Holy Cross, 80-62, helped in large part by a big night from Clark. The junior finished the affair with a season-best 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the floor and 3-for-4 behind the arc.
“[Clark] was great [Tuesday],” Golen said. “I think a big thing for her was she played extremely smart, she ran the defense really well, [and] she didn’t try to do too much.”
Clark has led the team in scoring this season with an average of 18.8 points per game. She boasts a perfect foul shot percentage, hitting all 13 this year, and has made 50 percent of her field goals.
“She’s just a better player now,” said Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith of Clark. “She’s older, she’s more experienced, she makes better decisions, and she’s a very talented player.”
Junior Missy Mullins was second for the team in scoring Tuesday with 13 points. She was the only other player to score in double digits. The bench as a whole contributed heavily to the win, adding 32 points as a group.
“This makes me so happy,” said Golen of the bench's play. “They come to practice every day and work just as hard as everyone else.... I think that everyone that played [Tuesday] and got into the game played phenomenally.”
The win was a group effort, with seniors Victoria Lippert and Golen each scoring nine points, and co-captain Miriam Rutzen, sophomore forward Erin McDonnell, and Fagbenle adding six each.
Thus far, all but three players on the Crimson roster have seen game action as the team gains a better sense of how to play together.
“It takes some time to transition and connect with each other,” Delaney-Smith said. “I like where we are right now, but there’s lots of work to be done.”