Women's Basketball Gaining Momentum
At 7 p.m. last Friday evening at Lavietes Pavilion, with 33 straight Ivy League wins under their belt, the Princeton women’s basketball team seemed poised to move even closer to a fourth consecutive Ancient Eight crown. Senior Niveen Rasheed, the league’s leading scorer at 17 points per game, had led her team to victory in every conference game this season by an average margin of 33 points, and she showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The Tigers looked unstoppable.
But stoppable they certainly were. Over two halves, Harvard dismantled Princeton, holding their opponent to 25.8-percent shooting from the field, nearly 20 percent lower than their season average. Rasheed found herself suffocated by Crimson defenders, hitting just 3-of-12 field goal attempts.
The last time the seniors of the Tiger squad, who had gone 50-1 in their Ivy careers to that point, saw a loss? Feb. 4, 2011. And the team that dealt this blemish to an otherwise perfect season? Harvard.
One could dismiss this week’s upset victory as a fluke, an instance of a greater team simply choking. But this game really was a Crimson win, the materialization of an upward trend and a quest for vengeance.
Rebounding from road losses at the Killer P’s and still mindful of a blowout at Dartmouth back in January, Harvard has played its past four games, all at home, to convincing wins.
Since the humbling 67-51 loss at Jadwin, the Crimson has shot at an average of 44.2 percent from the field and drilled over a quarter of its attempts from deep, even while missing standout three-point shooter Emma Golen. Junior guard Christine Clark has scored at least 14 points in each contest, while senior forward Victoria Lippert has broken the 20-point mark in three of the four games.
But it has been far from a two-women show. Amidst a rash of injuries, Elle Hagedorn has stepped up as an athletic guard with the ability to beat practically any defender off the dribble. The senior has seen her playing time increased to nearly 30 minutes per contest over the past four games and taken advantage, grabbing boards and displaying much-improved ball control skills.
In the frontcourt, forwards Miriam Rutzen and Temi Fagbenle have provided power on the glass. Fagbenle, in particular, has used her 6’4” frame to cut down opponents’ second chance shots with defensive rebounds.
The Crimson has knocked visiting opponents off of their offensive games. Starting with Brown on Feb. 22, opponents’ shooting percentage has fallen steadily. In Harvard’s last outing, a convincing 67-54 win over the Quakers last Saturday, Crimson defenders stifled Penn to dismal 6.3-percent shooting late in the first half.
But the team’s dominance in recent weeks isn’t adequately captured by improved statistics alone. The women of Harvard basketball have played with heart, with their coach Kathy Delaney-Smith frequently reminding them of how they’ve erred in the past.
“We should have never lost to Penn the first time,” Delaney-Smith said. “We should have never lost to Dartmouth the second time. Those are huge errors we knew would come back to haunt us a little bit. But stranger things have happened; many Ivy champions have had three losses.”
Previously facing a potential third place finish in the Ancient Eight, Harvard moved a step up the conference standings to second place this weekend, tied with Penn.
The Crimson now faces three more Ivy tests, Cornell and Columbia twice. The race for the conference title has opened up a little for the first time in several years.
Princeton left Cambridge evidently shaken by their scuffle with Harvard. The next night they traveled to Hanover and left with their slimmest margin of victory over a league opponent yet. Trailing at the half by three points, the Tigers fought for a narrow 68-60 win.
For Harvard women’s basketball, the pieces fell into place this weekend to break Princeton and continue a streak of its own.
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonCordelia.