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The Harvard women's basketball team looks to etch its name in the Ivy League record books this weekend when it travels "south" to face Princeton (3-17, 2-6 Ivy) and Penn (6-14, 2-6).
A victory against the Tigers tonight night in Jadwin Gym would be the Crimson's 22nd consecutive league victory, breaking the all-time league record it tied last Saturday against Columbia. More importantly, the weekend could help Harvard (15-6, 9-0) position itself for a clinching of the Ivy League title next weekend.
"This will be a good weekend for us to put some distance between ourselves and Brown," co-captain Jessica Gelman said.
The Bears are two games back of the Crimson, both in the loss column. So if Harvard wins its next three games, it clinches a share of the Ivy title, which it can take outright by winning next weekend's home game against Brown.
But before Harvard's players can start thinking about champagne baths and NCAA tournament brackets, they must focus on this weekend's matchups.
With the Tiger's abysmal record, it seems like tonight should be a cakewalk for the mighty Crimson. Princeton has lost 17 of its 20 games this season, including its last four and six of its last seven.
But the Tigers are not as talent-challenged as their record might imply. Harvard played this same Princeton squad two weekends ago, and the game was close until the second half, when the Crimson put the game out of reach.
"Princeton is not going to lay down for us," junior Alison Seanor said. "When you go out and play a young team after spanking it by 30 points, they're out for revenge."
Youth is an important part of Princeton's package, both as a positive and as a negative. The Tigers suit up an astounding eight rookies on their twelve-person roster, including two starters, which leads to an ambiguous combination of energy and volatility.
Princeton's attack--or what it has been able to muster this season--centers on its tough interior defense. The Tigers lead the Ivies in blocked shots, at 3.65 per game. Pacing the team is sophomore forward Lea Ann Drohan with 1.80 blocks-per-game.
And then there's Penn. Its biggest threat is normally junior forward Michelle Maldonaldo, who leads the Quakers in scoring (15.1 ppg) and rebounding (11.1 rpg). But Harvard seems to have found the secret to Maldonaldo two weekends ago, when she managed just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting against the Crimson.
Harvard also kept Maldonaldo and her Penn teammates off the boards, outrebounding the Quakers 27-17 in the earlier contest, an 86-57 blowout.
Harvard did get burned somewhat by junior Penn guard Colleen Kelly, who tallied 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-6 from beyond the three-point arc. Kelly has been a mad bomber of late, rattling in a school-record seven threes last week-end against Cornell.
Despite the inside-outside threat Penn offers, Harvard is confident that its earlier shellacking of the Quakers was no fluke.
"Our defense has been really solid, and we have been outrebounding teams," Gelman said. "If we have fun and play our game, we should come home with two more Ivy League wins."
Harvard has good reason to feel confident. Besides being undefeated in the league thus far, the Crimson has won nine of its last 10, and easily.
As usual, Harvard has been led on both sides of the ball by junior standout Allison Feaster, last week's Ivy Player of the Week and an All-American candidate. Feaster leads the Crimson in scoring (21.4 ppg), rebounding (10.4 rpg), blocks (15), steals (43), and, amazingly, three-point field goals (40).
Despite Feaster's heroics, the Crimson's main weapon remains its depth. Harvard routinely plays its entire roster without any change in results.
"We have a lot of team chemistry, and I think we're peaking at the right time," Seanor said. "We're excited. This is fun now."
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