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It's the classic sports cliche that players and coaches use to describe the act of trying a little harder or playing a little bit better. It's heard so often that it might even be described as one of those sports cliches that is-excuse the expression-tried and true.
How many interviewers have heard someone say "Sally Ballplayer really stepped up when we needed her tonight?' Or maybe, the interviewer heard something like 'with Jane Soreankle unable to play, everyone knows the team needs to step up.'
Well, the players and coaches of the Harvard women's basketball team were saying it Saturday night-again, in all likelihood-when, with six minutes, remaining, freshman forward Allison Feaster jumped to block a shot, came down awkwardly on her right foot, sprained her ankle and could not return.
Losing Feaster would have been tough in any setting for the Crimson, which has come to rely on her ability to clear people out underneath the hoop and her 16.5 points per game. Losing her was particularly tough, however, for two very specific reasons: Feaster had already scored a career-high 27 points, and Penn had cut Harvard's 18-point second half lead to a scant 10-point advantage.
Although the Crimson was able to fight off the newly-spirited Quakers for one minute, the momentum had clearly shifted towards Penn after Feaster went down. The Crimson watched its 10-point lead evaporate to one point. And, after senior Shelly Dieterle's lay-in, the scoreboard read 79-78, Penn.
With its go-to player able to only watch from the bench, with under three minutes to play and with a loss probably ending the Crimson's hopes of an Ivy League title, Harvard had to find other weapons and quickly.
Katy Davis, who replaced Feaster, put Harvard back in the lead for good, burying a five-footer from the lane. Jessica Gelman sank two free throws with 10 seconds remaining and Harvard clinging to an 84-83 lead.
It was Elizabeth "Buzz" Proudfit, however, who came up the biggest. The junior guard sank both ends of a one-and-one with 1:09 to go, putting Harvard up 82-79.
And that wasn't the half of it. One trip down the court later, isolated by her defender and the ball behind the three-point stripe, Proudfit backed into the lane and launched an improbable turnaround 10-footer, barely even looking at the rim.
The ball found nothing but the bottom of the net.
"It was a great team victory," captain Tammy Butler said. "Towards the end, everyone chipped in when they really had to. Look at the last three clutch plays-Katy Davis scoring, Elizabeth Proudfit driving and Jessica Gelman hitting two free throws."
Sure, it could have been a more decisive victory. Sure, the Crimson should have held its 10-point lead when Feaster went down. Sure, Harvard coach Kathy Delaney Smith probably put the bench in a little too early.
But when the going to tough Saturday night, the Crimson got going, demonstrating that the team has the brains not to go mental when a tough press and some hot shooters wreck what could have been a blowout.
Proudfit, Davis, Gelman and Co. hit the shots when they counted, and that was all Harvard needed to walk away the victor. Harvard didn't just overcome adversity; the Crimson spit in its face.
And that's the mark of a great team.
"I think everyone came in and stepped it up," Butler said.
Everyone--cliches be damned--did.
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