After a defense-dominated first half on Wednesday night, the Harvard women’s basketball team found itself with a narrow 25-19 lead over New Hampshire with 20 minutes to play.
Then the Crimson’s shots started falling. Sophomore guard Ali Curtis sank a three-pointer from the top of the key and senior forward Victoria Lippert followed a minute later with a trey of her own, extending Harvard’s lead to 31-19.
The Crimson (5-2) started the second period on a 16-6 run en route to rolling over the Wildcats (3-2), 63-44, at Lavietes Pavilion. Lippert keyed Harvard’s second half run by notching 21 points, including 17 in the second half, on 7-of-10 shooting. The senior was also 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and grabbed seven boards on the night in 23 minutes of playing time. It was her 12th career 20-point game.
Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith noted the contrast between the team’s offense in the first and second halves.
“I feel the offense was frenetic [in the first half],” she said. “I thought we were not executing our offense at all, and our timing and connection with each other was not good. The fact that we even had a lead was good…. I thought we executed a little better in the second half—and then [Lippert] got hot.”
At one point, Lippert scored eight straight points for the Crimson, hitting two shots from downtown and a second-chance bucket to extend Harvard’s lead to 16 points with 12:56 to play.
Lippert credited her second-half success to better execution.
“I was just trying to be on balance and take what they were giving me, so I got open behind the 3-point line a few times and was able to hit those,” Lippert said. “They had some smaller girls guarding me, so I was just trying to use what I had. Fortunately, the shots were going in.”
Even though the Crimson pulled away in the final period, it shot just 36 percent for the half and 39 percent for the game.
“Believe it or not, 39 percent is not that bad,” Delaney-Smith said. “Thirty-nine percent is good enough to win ballgames, especially when you’re holding teams to around 44 points.”
As defense was a critical focus coming into the game, limiting New Hampshire’s points was essential, according to Lippert.
“We feel good about the defense,” Lippert said. “We really wanted to pick it up on the defensive end and string together stops for 40 minutes. That was our intention tonight, and I think we were able to do that.”
Harvard held the Wildcats to just 34 percent on 17-of-50 shooting, along with collecting seven steals and five blocks. Sophomore forward Temi Fagbenle led the Crimson with three steals, and co-captain Miriam Rutzen added three blocks.
Harvard also dominated the glass, outrebounding New Hampshire, 43-27, including 18 offensive boards. It was the first time this season that the Wildcats had been outrebounded.
No play better demonstrated the Crimson’s prowess on the boards than a sequence in which, following a steal by senior guard Elle Hagedorn, Harvard grabbed three straight offensive rebounds. On the last, Clark drew a foul and made both free throws to extend the lead to 56-37 with five minutes to play. Clark, who leads the team in points per game, contributed 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting and led the team with eight rebounds.
In the first half, the Crimson fell behind, 4-0, after two buckets by New Hampshire forward Morgan Frame but ran off seven straight points to gain the advantage.
Harvard extended its lead to 23-14 after Clark sank a 17-footer from the top of the key, but Wildcat guard Ariel Gaston quickly responded with a three. Senior guard Cari Reed, who led New Hampshire with 10 points for the game, added a layup 30 seconds later to lessen the gap heading into the break.
The second half, though, belonged to the Crimson, as it controlled both ends of the floor.
The blowout win gave Harvard its first 5-2 start since the 2004-05 season, but the team knows it must build on its second-half performance against the Wildcats and execute defensively. The offense is less of a concern, according to Delaney-Smith.
“I never feel that offense will be our issue,” she said. “I believe that, on any given night, someone is going to get hot.”