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Women's Basketball Scraps Out Win Over Siena

In another contest one could label as a trap game, the Harvard women’s basketball team overcame Siena (2-8, 1-1 MAAC) on the road for a 65-58 victory. The win extended the team’s unbeaten streak to nine, the longest non-conference run in program history.

With final exams finishing up the day before, the Crimson (9-1) faced a grueling bus trip to upstate New York before heading to their respective hometowns for the Christmas holiday. Despite having two weeks without competitive basketball since the win at Kansas, the visitors picked up where they left off, only trailing for 61 seconds in the entire game.

“No matter who we’re playing, we have to come to play, we have to have high intensity,” said freshman point guard Katie Benzan. “If we play Harvard basketball, we know we’ll grind it out and get the win.”

Following its general modus operandi for the season, Harvard controlled the game throughout but never truly buried the Saints. A late rally cut the lead to three with just 17 seconds remaining, but Benzan hit both ensuing free throws before sophomore guard Jackie Benitez, the hosts’ leading scorer, missed a three at the other end, solidifying the result.

The Crimson once again benefitted from its backcourt depth—three guards were in double-figures offensively. With freshman forward Jeannie Boehm once again commanding multiple defenders on any given possession, Benzan and sophomore guards Sydney Skinner, Nani Redford, and Madeline Raster took advantage. The backcourt quartet combined to shoot 15-for-29, including an 8-of-14 mark from beyond the arc, with 46 points and 12 of Harvard’s 15 assists.

“Our point guards have added some great leadership on the floor,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “Even when the basketball gets ugly, they’re providing some real, confident leadership. We almost always have four or five people in double figures…. We have a lot of ways to score, and I don’t think we have any selfish players on our team.”

Boehm was not a factor in the points category, contributing just one made free throw, but she was active on defense with nine rebounds, a block, and a steal. She had four offensive boards, one of which led to a Benzan three and the other to opportunities at the free throw line. Boehm came into the game 11th in the country with three blocks per game, showing her ability to make an impact on both ends of the court.

“We don’t need [Jeannie] to score 20 points a ball game,” Delaney-Smith said. “She probably has the ability to do that, but other teams are zoning in on her. She was a really strong rebounder today, she’s playing terrific defense for a freshman. For a freshman to keep the other parts of her game together, she’s doing a nice job.”

Despite limiting Siena’s offensive opportunities, the Crimson struggled to find an offensive rhythm of its own. Turnovers were the prime culprit, with the visitors recording 26 turnovers, one shy of its season-high against NJIT a few weeks ago. Harvard is now averaging 17.9 turnovers per game, tied for 244th in the country (out of 344 teams).

“It’s not the same kind of turnovers in any game,” Delaney-Smith said. “If a team’s design (i.e. Kansas) is to jump in the passing lanes, that’s one thing. Today was a function of the end of exams, being packed for Christmas. That’s what those turnovers looked like today; things were ugly on the offensive end.”

Harvard also made up for its offensive deficiencies by continuing its dominance of the glass. The visitors outrebounded the Saints, 46-28, including a 13-6 margin on the offensive end. The Crimson averages 44.8 rebounds per game, tied for 18th in the nation.

—Staff writer Manav Khandelwal can be reached at manav.khandelwal@thecrimson.com.

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