For the first time since the 1990-91 season when the Crimson flirted with Ivy League perfection, the Harvard women's basketball team is in the driver's seat for the league championship.
Harvard (13-6, 6-1 Ivy), looking to solidify their top spot and possibly put some distance between itself and second place Dartmouth (13-6, 5-2), will host Columbia and Cornell this weekend at Lavietes Pavilion.
"Right now, it is crucial that we win every game from here on in," said junior guard Jessica Gelman. "Last year, we let the season come down to one game. We have a chance now to make sure that we win the title out-right and we want to take advantage of that."
Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the lowly Columbia Lions (2-18, 1-7) will come to town. The Lions are a team that has significant young talent, high-lighted by freshmen center Leslie Zahm and freshmen guard Colleen Touey, both previous Ivy League Rookie of the Week winners.
So far in this campaign, Columbia is playing many of the teams in the league extremely close; however, the Lions have yet to really start winning.
"We can't afford to take anyone lightly," Gelman added. "[Columbia] almost beat Cornell a couple of weeks ago, so they obviously have talent. We will show up ready to play."
On Saturday night at 6 p.m., Harvard will host the Cornell Big Red. The game represents a chance for the Crimson to avenge its lone Ivy League blemish of the season, a 70-69 thrilling loss to the Big Red in Ithaca on January 12.
Cornell (10-10, 5-3) is playing for considerably more than just pride. With victories this weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth, the Big Red could find itself alone in first place.
Cornell is led by the all-around play of senior guard Mary LaMacchia (17.7 points per game), the Big Red's best offensive weapon. LaMacchia scored 27 points in Cornell's victory last week against Brown.
Taking some of the burden off of the perimeter play, 5'11" sophomore Kim Ruck (12.9 ppg, 6.2 rebounds per game) is emerging as a potent inside threat.
The previous meeting was a loss that was tough to swallow for the Crimson. Harvard senior guard Amy Rheinhard missed a pair of free-throws with just three seconds remaining to ensure the team's only Ivy loss to date.
However, the players are quick to point out that contest was lost by the entire squad. The consensus is that the players will try to make sure that Cornell is not in a position to win this game.
"We played horribly that entire game, it was definitely a team loss," Gelman said. "We want to make sure this time that this game doesn't come down to one play. We are playing much better basketball now."