Following the Harvard women's basketball team's season-ending loss to Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas Coach Gary Blair summed up Harvard's season more accurately than anyone else.
"Harvard is the American dream," Blair said. "Harvard is the chance for every coach out there in America to realize, 'We can.' You gotta believe, and I'm just as excited for Harvard as I am for our basketball team."
With his team headed to the Sweet Sixteen, Blair was just as excited for the Crimson as he was for his own Lady Razorbacks. That should give some indication as to how Harvard's season went.
Faced with the challenge of following last season's team, which registered the first undefeated conference record in Ivy League history, Harvard (23-5, 12-2 Ivy) made more school, Ivy and--most importantly--national history in its 1997-98 campaign.
After capturing its third consecutive Ivy League championship--the first time any team has won three straight outright Ivy titles--Harvard made its third appearance in the NCAA Tournament the charm. The Crimson became the first 16 seed ever to defeat a one seed in the men's or women's Tournament by stunning fifth-ranked Stanford, 71-67, in its first-round matchup.
"It was the greatest season of my life," co-captain Megan Basil said.
The victory over the Cardinal was the defining mark in a year of record-setting performances for Harvard. Aside from its sixth overall Ivy title, the Crimson also established a season record for wins with 23 and kept alive its home winning streak--which currently stands at 22--for next year's team to continue. Harvard finished the regular season ranked second in the country in three-point field goals per game (7.6) and 12th in winning percentage (.846).
Although Harvard had its string of consecutive Ivy League victories snapped at Princeton on Feb. 7, the streak is set at 32 and should not be approached for a long time, if at all.
The class of `98 has left its legacy on Harvard basketball as well. Megan Basil, Sarah Brandt, Allison Feaster, Karun Grossman and Alison Seanor will graduate as the winningest class in Harvard basketball history, men's or women's, and the winningest class in Ivy play in league history. In their four years, they compiled an overall record of 82-26 (.759 winning percentage), an Ivy record of 50-6 (.893), an overall home record of 43-7 (.860) and a home Ivy record of 27-1 (.964).
The only non-conference setbacks that Harvard suffered were losses to Maryland and South Carolina, leaving the Crimson at 9-1 heading into the Ivy League season. Harvard hit a pair of stumbling blocks there as well--including a loss to Dartmouth in its regular-season finale--which only set the stage for the Crimson's postseason drama.
But the 1997-98 season was not just about team accolades. There were plenty of individual honors as well. And nearly all of them went to Feaster, the woman who firmly established herself as the greatest basketball player in the history of the Ivy League.
It seemed that Feaster was breaking records more often than she was playing games. The assault on the record books began on Nov. 29 against Mt. St. Mary's when, with two free throws, she became Harvard's all-time scoring leader.
Against Lehigh Feaster shattered the Ivy League career scoring record and pulled down career rebound number 1,000. Five days later in a contest against Yale in front of her home crowd, she became the first woman and only the second player ever to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
On Feb. 13, while playing in her 100th career game for Harvard, she broke the school's all-time rebounding record. One week later, in front of the largest home crowd of the last three years, she broke the Ivy single-season scoring record of 631 points; Feaster finished the season with 797.
Feaster capped her Harvard career with two dominating performances on national television versus Stanford and Arkansas. Her career totals speak for themselves: 2,312 points, 1,157 rebounds, 308 steals, 243 assists and 143 three-point field goals.
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