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The Harvard women's basketball team is going to have fun in the sun this weekend.
The team plays Southern Illinois (2-1-0) today in second-round action at the Arizona Copper Bowl Classic.
"Not only is Arizona nice this time of year, it's also a highly funded tournament--a lot of it is paid for," Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. "And we get a chance to play strong teams from other parts of the country."
The Crimson (2-2-0, 0-0-0 Ivy) comes off a 1-1 split at its own Harvard Invitational Tournament, where it followed a disappointing 65-64 loss to Siena on the first day with a 67-63 win over a solid Pep-perdine team on the final day of competition.
"It got our confidence back up after the game the day before," junior forward Karun Grossman said. "I'm looking forward to the trip and am excited about going to Arizona for five days. The schedule is a lot of basketball and a lot of sight-seeing."
Even the coach plans to have fun on this trip.
"It's not overwhelmingly important," Delaney-Smith said. "The Ivy League has an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and they would never pick a second Ivy team at large. So this would just improve seeding."
But the team also realizes that winning is fun.
"We've discussed everything, including jet lag," junior guard Megan Basil said. "Nothing's going to stop us. We've been physically ready but had breakdowns emotionally and mentally. We've got to get back to where we were before the season."
Basil perhaps will be playing for higher stakes when the team suits up for Southern Illinois considering she is from the Chicago area.
"I know their point guard, Kasia McClendon, and the game means a lot to me," Basil said. "Everyone knows that winning is the first focus."
Harvard is trying to regain its form from last year, when it ripped off a 13-game winning streak en route to a 20-7 season culminating in an appearance at the NCAA tournament.
That team finished second in the country in three-pointers per game, 17th in scoring, and 15th in scoring margin, but thus far in the season, the Crimson is only at a 25 percent three-point clip and has lost two games although only by a total of three points.
But Southern Illinois is a solid program, since the Salukis have had 14 consecutive winning seasons and were 17-9 last year.
The fact that Harvard drew a first-round bye in the Arizona tournament along with teams such as Southern Illinois shows a measure of respect.
"Southern Illinois is tough, although Arizona is probably the strongest team there," Delaney-Smith said. "They have a strong program and will be a good test."
McClendon, the two-time Missouri Valley Conference defensive player of the year and an All-Conference selection last year, could be a one-person wrecking crew. Last year she led Southern Illinois in scoring, three-point baskets, assists, steals, and minutes. Also, her 3.7 steals per game average placed her 15th in the nation.
"She's real athletic and strong one-on-one, so they do a lot of isolation," Delaney-Smith said. "She has speed and height, so we might put [5-9] junior forward Allison Feaster or [5-10] junior guard Alison Seanor on her. We also might play zone, since they have not shown a lot of stand-up outside shooting."
Harvard offers plenty of offensive fire power of its own to keep the Salukis' hands full, however, especially with Feaster, the top player in the Ancient Eight last year.
Feaster averaged a double-double last year (18 points, 10 rebounds per game) and has not let up at all this season (19 points, 12 rebounds). She also recently reached a landmark by scoring her 1,000th career point in the Pepperdine game.
Co-captain Jessica Gelman has played well to date as the only other double-figure Harvard scorer (12.3 points a contest) and team leader in assists, with 5.5 per contest.
The Harvard hoopsters don't plan to make the trip all the way out to Arizona to play in a consolation game like they had to last weekend.
Tonight, they'll try to make sure that it's the Salukis who have a long, sad trip home.
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