While most Harvard students are stuffing their faces with turkey and stuffing over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Harvard women's basketball team will be hard at work.
The Crimson (2-0, 0-0 Ivy) heads into the ECAC Holiday Festival at Holy Cross this weekend where it will face its first true test of the young season. The tournament includes Holy Cross, Maryland and Mt. St. Mary's.
Harvard will play Maryland (1-2, 1-0 ACC) in the first round on Saturday afternoon. If the Crimson defeats the Terrapins, it will play the winner of the Holy Cross-Mt. St. Mary's game for the championship on Sunday.
Harvard has much more at stake on Saturday than its perfect record. Maryland is a talented opponent from a nationally prominent conference, and a Crimson victory against the Terps would be an enormous plus toward seedings for the NCAA Tournament should the Crimson win the Ivy League.
"[Maryland] is a very athletic team," Harvard co-captain Megan Basil said. "We need to go into the game and not be shocked by their quickness."
Last season, despite its first ever 14-0 Ivy League record and a second consecutive league title, Harvard received only a 16 seed in the national tournament due to several losses in the pre-Ivy season. Pitted against top-seeded North Carolina--also from the ACC--in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Crimson was ousted quickly, 78-53.
"These [pre-Ivy] games are very important for the long term," Basil said. "Last year our early season screwed us."
Harvard has already shown quite a turnaround from last year. Convincing victories over Army and Boston University show the Crimson to be much more organized than it was during the early part of the 1996 season.
However, Harvard has yet to play its best basketball. While the Crimson played well at both ends of the floor against B.U. last Thursday, 20 team fouls allowed the Terriers to score 62 points and keep the final score respectable.
Harvard cannot afford to make little mistakes against teams like Maryland. The Terps are well-coached, perennially strong and more than ready to exploit a small window of opportunity.
"We expect Maryland to be a good team, probably similar to North Carolina," Harvard co-captain Allison Feaster said. "We know we can win if we're playing well."
Maryland concluded last season with an 18-10 record and a third-place finish in the ACC standings. The team qualified for its 15th national tournament where it lost in the first round to Purdue, 74-48.
The 1997 Terrapins are an experienced group, returning four of their five starters from one year ago. They are led by All-ACC candidates and co-captains Stephanie Cross and Sonia Chase.
Cross, a 6'1 forward, led Maryland in scoring and rebounding last season, averaging 11.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game. Chase is a 5'11" guard who recorded 58 steals in 27 games last year to lead the Terrapins.
As Maryland's top defender, Chase is usually assigned to guard the opposition's best player. That means she will most likely find herself with the daunting task of trying to contain Feaster.
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