Three-Month Win Streak for Women's Basketball Halts at Penn, Princeton

Benzan on the Ball
Freshman point guard Katie Benzan, pictured in action against Columbia, scored 14 points in the first half, but after the Tigers switched gears and focused on denying her scoring opportunities, she landed just three points in the second half.
For three months, the Harvard women’s basketball team (16-3, 4-2 Ivy) could do no wrong. With 16 wins in a row, the Crimson had tied a program record and bulldozed its way into the national conversation.

After 48 disappointing hours, not only is any hope of entry into the Top 25 gone, but also the team’s first Ivy League title since the 2007-2008 season may have slipped away as well.

Harvard fell in both contests this past weekend, losing in convincing fashion at Penn (12-6, 5-0), 63-43, before being upset by Princeton (9-9, 3-2) in overtime on Saturday.

“To be honest with you, whether we admit it or not, that winning streak was like a monkey on our back,” said coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. “We’ve been way below our potential consistently for most of the games.”


The Crimson traveled to Central New Jersey on Saturday night to face the Tigers, who had struggled after becoming the first team in Ancient Eight history to enter the tournament with an at-large bid last season. Harvard started well, jumping out to a seven-point lead after one quarter, but a 19-5 third quarter in Princeton’s favor erased the deficit and then some.

Freshman point guard Katie Benzan, arguably the team’s best performer to this point in the season, was scintillating in the first half with 14 points to lead all scorers. The Tigers made a tactical switch to focus on denying her scoring opportunities, a move that limited the rookie to just three points in the second half plus overtime while forcing her into four turnovers.

“[Katie] was in a tough position, to be honest,” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s hard when she’s drawing that much attention…. What she needs is for her teammates to get to the slots, get to the release position, and set a screen and roll. But I don’t think we did a very good job of that.”

An inspiring fourth-quarter comeback was in the cards, fueled by three straight field goals to open the frame and cut the deficit to three. After a triple by Tigers guard Gabrielle Rush, the game’s leading scorer with 18, captain Destiny Nunley scored five straight to trim the gap to one with under seven minutes to play. The Crimson eventually tied things up before Rush missed a three with time expiring.

A string of turnovers combined with hot shooting by Princeton doomed Harvard in overtime, with Princeton jumping out to a big lead and never looking back.

“There was no rhythm, and since we haven’t had to overcome a loss, this was a big test to see if we could put it behind us,” Delaney-Smith said. “Unbelievable basketball [against Princeton] to get back into the game, but again, we didn’t control what could control like execution.”


In the weekend’s first game, a torrid offensive performance condemned the visitors to defeat in Philadelphia, with Benzan, Nunley, and freshman center Jeannie Boehm, three of the Crimson’s top scorers, combining to shoot 3-for-26 from the field. As a team, Harvard made just 26.3 percent of its shots for 43 points, the worst output of the season.

The Quakers, now favored to go on and win a second-straight conference title, boast the best defense statistically in the Ivy League, allowing just 51.5 points per game. Harvard seemed to shoot itself in the foot, however, with poor execution and mistakes that led to 20 points off 13 Crimson turnovers.

“Penn wasn’t stealing passes, picking them off and getting layups. They were dead balls, forwards traveling, and our forwards...turning the ball over,” Delaney-Smith said. “We could not put the ball in the ocean. We were incredibly tight, disconnected, and fractured on offense.”

Besides junior guard Anna Ross, who grabbed 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, Penn was fairly quiet offensively. An excellent defensive performance from Boehm, junior forward Taylor Rooks, and others helped keep the Quakers’ “twin towers” of Sydney Stipanovich and Michelle Nwokedi under wraps. The two forwards combined to make just 9-of-24 field goals on the day.

It was the offense, however, that never kicked into gear. The Crimson was down by nine after just one quarter, a deficit it never overcame. Sophomore guards Nani Redford and Sydney Skinner provided some spark off of the bench, with three assists and 11 points respectively, but it was too little and far too late.

“I don’t think we’ve played well since the Ivy League started,” Delaney-Smith said. “We’ve had toughness and found a way to win. But Penn is a really good team and Princeton has a winning attitude.”

—Staff writer Manav Khandelwal can be reached at


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