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End of the Road for W. Cagers

By Jamal K. Greene

One year ago today, the women's basketball season was over for Harvard. It wasn't over for everyone, but it was for the Crimson.

Harvard had been blown out by Dartmouth two weeks earlier, ending the Crimson's impressive 11-3 season and its hopes of an NCAA tournament bid. All that remained for Harvard were thoughts of next year and the unfinished business of the Ivy League championship that could have been.

Today there are teams playing for a national title and Harvard is not one of them. As it was a year ago, the season is over for the Crimson, and it is time to think about next year.

The only difference is that the unfinished business is now complete.

In a season that will be remembered for sending the first-ever Harvard team to the NCAA tournament, the women's team won the Ivy League title in impressive fashion, steam-rolling its way over its opposition right up until halftime of its first round tournament loss to Vanderbilt.

The season began with the goal of an Ivy League title in mind. Unlike last year, Harvard had to shoulder the burden of expectation, as the pre-season media poll predicted an Ancient Eight title for the Crimson.

Despite the graduation of Tammy Butler, the team's all-time scoring and rebounding leader, Harvard had a lot to look forward to at the start of this season. The key was experience.

Allison Feaster, last year's Ivy-League rookie of the year and a first team All-Ivy selection, was entering the season with a year's experience under her belt. It also helped that co-captains Elizabeth Proudfit and Liz Gettelman, as well as starters Amy Reinhard and Katy Davis, were all in their senior year.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen this year. And with teams like Rhode Island, George Washington and Arizona peppering the schedule, the prospect of national attention loomed large.

But the season did not start out as hoped. The first minor turning point was at the Harvard Invitational. After starting the season 3-0, Harvard faced George Washington in the tournament final. The Lady Colonials had reached the sweet sixteen of the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

After George Washington pulled ahead in the second half, Harvard mounted a mini-charge to pull within one with seconds to go. The final play of the game--in which 6'4" George Washington center Tajama Abraham emphatically rejected a potential game-winning shot by Proudfit--was symbolic of the team's prospects of gaining the confidence and national recognition that would come along with beating a team like the Lady Colonials.

Harvard would go 4-5 in its next nine games. During this time, the Crimson lost by an average margin of nine points in that stretch whereas its average margin of victory was over 19. The only exception to the pattern of winning big and losing small was a disappointing 24-point loss to Arizona. After the narrow loss to George Washington, Harvard seemed unable to win close games.

The final straw seemed to be a one-point loss to Cornell that left it tied for the Ivy lead at 2-1. The Crimson had a chance to win the game, but Reinhard missed two free throws in the waning seconds and the Big Red snared the victory.

But whereas the George Washington loss seemed to send Harvard into a downward spiral, the heart-breaker against Cornell ended up being the team's last loss of the regular season.

Following the Cornell loss, Harvard ran off a string of 13 consecutive victories, running its Ivy League opponents off the court with its trigger-happy, nationally-ranked, offensive attack.

A road game against Princeton midway through the season, expected to be tight, ended in a 25-point Harvard triumph. By that time, the league knew that Harvard was for real.

The closure at the end of the Ivy League season was poetic. The last two games of the Ivy schedule were a three-point win over Yale and an overtime victory over Dartmouth.

The answer to the lingering question of whether the Crimson could win a close game was written in the Dartmouth basketball nets, cut down after the emotional Harvard victory.

The regular season over, Harvard faced the daunting task of travelling to Tennessee to face No. 12 Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Commodores were bigger, stronger and infinitely more tournament-tested than the Crimson. But in the first half of that game Harvard used the national stage to show what had gotten them there in the first place.

Harvard set an NCAA tournament record by connecting on eight three-pointers in the first half, taking a 41-40 lead into the locker room after going up by as much as seven points.

Although Vanderbilt's adjusted man-to-man defense in the second half extinguished Harvard's downtown fire, the Crimson kept it close almost until the end.

If nothing else, Harvard showed that the Ivy League can hold in Southern-dominated women's basketball.

The one unavoidable question that lingers after this historic season is, what's next? The Harvard women's basketball team cruised to an Ivy League title and avoided embarrassment against a more-talented NCAA tournament opponent.

The only goal left for the Crimson is to be playing basketball a year from today.

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