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Lions: Next Cagers Victim

By Michael Stankiewicz

The Harvard men's basketball team has been consistent all season, using its tough out-of-league competition to prepare for the real dogfight, the Ivy League race.

The result had been a 2-9 out-of-league record and a 5-1 record within the Ancient Eight. But the trend was bucked last week, when the Crimson endured a thrilling 98-91 loss to Yale in double overtime Saturday for its second league loss, but turned around Tuesday with a confidence-inspiring 73-67 victory over Hartford of the North Atlantic Conference.

Harvard Coach Peter Roby is hoping the Crimson's new winning ways out of league will translate into a stellar, almost-perfect final stretch through the Ivy schedule, which begins tonight at Briggs Cage against Columbia.

The Crimson (9-11 overall, 6-2 Ivy) also hosts Cornell tomorrow night and perfect play (read: sweep) against the two New York teams is essential to keep pace with Princeton, which breezed through the first half of its league schedule with a perfect 7-0 mark. The Tigers play at Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow.

The problem last weekend for Harvard was fatigue, with only seven players getting significant playing time against the Elis. In the second overtime, a tired Crimson defense was burned by not-too-awesome offensive weapons such as Rob Connolly, David Brown and Stu Davies for crucial baskets.

To relieve the pressure, Roby looked to Anikar Chhabra and still-banged up Mike Minor in the paint and Dave LaPointe on the perimeter to provide the front seven with some breathing stretches against Hartford. No starter played more than 32 minutes against the Hawks.

"It was a really pleasant surprise," Roby said. "The fatigue factor was something on our mind and we worked hard at keeping people fresh. I hope to find time for people off the bench this weekend. We need to find situations for them to play in."

The starters will certainly need a break because the Big Red (11-9, 4-4) and Lions (6-14, 4-4 Ivy) like to push the ball up the court as much as Harvard does.

However, the Lions' lack of depth should prevent them from wearing out Harvard. Earlier this year, Columbia Coach Jack Rohan only used eight players in the Lions' near-upset 77-76 loss to Harvard in New York. Guard Buck Jenkins burned Harvard for 28 points in that game, despite an impressive defensive performance by Harvard Co-Captain Ralph James.

Jenkins' 16.9 points per game leads a surprising Lions team that is shooting 48 percent from the field and is tied with Cornell and Yale for third place in the Ivy League. Columbia has already shocked the Elis with a 58-53 upset in New Haven two weeks ago.

Russ Steward and Eric Speaker are the long-range threats, leading a team that is shooting 44 percent from three-point land, and center Dane Holmes has recovered from a disappointing start to check in with 6.9 p.p.g. and 32 blocks.

The Crimson did not have as much trouble against Cornell in January, controlling a 75-69 victory from beginning to end. The hot shooting of guard Matt McClain, who finished with 17 points, and relentless defense inside on Rich Medina, Bernard Jackson and Robbie Hill were the keys in that victory. Harvard's 44-36 rebounding advantage was the first of many good rebounding nights for the Crimson in 1991, a missing factor during Harvard's 2-9 stretch in 1990.

The Crimson dominated the boards against Hartford Tuesday night, 42-32, and did not allow the Hawks a single offensive rebound in the first half. James led the way with 10 rebounds.

"We have to be alert defensively and keep everyone off the defensive glass," Roby said. "We did an excellent job keeping Hartford off the offensive boards [Tuesday]."

The big man for Cornell is 255-lb. center Jackson, who has struggled through a mediocre season, averaging 8.7 p.p.g. and 6.2 rebounds per game. He connected for only five points in the January loss to Harvard.

But the true big men for the Big Red this year are Shawn Maharaj and Steve Johnson, who together pump in 22.6 p.p.g., including 73 three-pointers. The two almost brought the Crimson to its knees in January with 40 points.

"You have to concentrate on the perimeter players because of the threat to shoot three-pointers," Roby said.

However, Harvard is no stranger to the three-point weapon, with Rullman, James, McClain and center Peter Condakes able to convert treys at any time. The foursome was 8-for-11 from beyond the three-point stripe against Hartford.

If Princeton keeps on embarrassing opponents, Harvard's efforts to win the Ivy title this weekend and for the rest of the season will be futile. Someone else has to trip up the Tigers to give the Crimson a chance. It's a factor Harvard cannot control--and a factor it cannot think about this weekend.

"Our attitude all year has been terrific. It's a strength," Roby said. "We've said all year that we can't allow disappointments to affect what we do. And I think that was evident against Hartford. We've refused to let something that already transpired affect us now."

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