After facing a barrage of three-pointers in its first-round WNIT win over Iona, the Harvard women’s basketball team (22-8, 11-3 Ivy) fell, 63-52, to a Rutgers squad (24-9, 12-6 American Athletic) that launched all 61 of its shots from inside the arc in the WNIT second round matchup at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Sophomore guard Kahleah Copper led the inside attack for the Scarlet Knights, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Copper hit seven of her 16 shots from the field and also went 5-for-9 from the foul line.
Copper was not the only Scarlet Knight to make her way to the charity stripe, as the team’s attacking style of play earned it 24 trips to the line on the night. The Crimson only attempted nine free throws on the evening.
In contrast to Rutgers, Harvard launched the ball from deep 21 times on the evening, but the Crimson only hit seven triples on the night for a 33 percent clip, below its season average. Two of the treys came in the final minutes when the game was already all but decided.
While the contrasting styles of offensive play was noticeable throughout the game, the difference in the game came down to the turnover battle. With both teams shooting below 40 percent from the field, it was Harvard’s 20 turnovers to Rutgers’ eight that doomed the Crimson.
The Scarlet Knights defense, especially on the perimeter, hounded the Crimson guards all night.
This physical man-to-man defense was led by junior guard Syessence Davis, who was able to bottle up Harvard captain Christine Clark for much of the night on her way to a four steal, eight assist effort.
“They are an incredibly athletic team, and we knew they were going to be physical coming in,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We knew we were going to have to use our teamwork and fundamentals, and I think we did that.”
Just as Davis was able to hold Clark, the catalyst of the Crimson’s offense, to 11 points on the night, solid interior defense from sophomore forward Rachel Hollivay helped limit the effectiveness of junior forward Temi Fagbenle. The team’s second-leading scorer on the season ended up with just four points on nine shots.
Fagbenle finished the first half scoreless after getting into early foul trouble, but it wasn’t just her offensive output that was affected.
Rutgers was able to build its early six-point halftime lead while Fagbenle sat with two fouls.
“Jasmine, Christine, and Temi each got two fouls in the first half,” Delaney-Smith said. “I don’t know if that threw us off or what [happened]. We got the shots that we wanted, but they just didn’t fall.”
With Clark and Fagbenle struggling to score against the physical Scarlet Knight defense, senior Jasmine Evans stepped up for the Crimson offense, scoring 15 points on 6-10 shooting from the field.
“I think [Jasmine] stepped up in a really big way tonight,” junior Ali Curtis said. “She has always been a really important player for our team, both on the offensive and defensive end. I think she did a really good job of handling the pressure they were throwing at us, and that she was very influential tonight."
Even with its offensive struggles on the night, Harvard was able to hang around thanks to some tough defense of its own. The Crimson appeared to know the book on Rutgers’ offense and its lack of outside shooting, as it repeatedly packed the paint against the Scarlet Knights in hopes of forcing long two-point jumpers.
“Our defensive plan throughout the game was to stop their drives,” Curtis said. “We knew they were an athletic team that wanted to drive, so we really packed it in and tried to take away their strengths.”
While the strategy was able to force plenty of these less efficient shots, the Crimson couldn’t capitalize on Rutgers’ poor shooting.
Harvard fell behind to open the contest, and never led by more than one the entire game.
The loss marks the third straight year that the Crimson have fallen in the second round of the WNIT, while the 22 wins for Harvard on the year are the most for the team since the 2002-03 season.
“All in all, I thought we played pretty well,” Delaney-Smith said. “I was amazed at how well we handled the game they threw at us, but the ball didn’t fall for us. I thought we were able to get the shots we wanted against their athleticism, [but] they just didn’t fall.”
—Staff writer Ty Aderhold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.