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Last night the Dartmouth women's basketball team won the biggest game in its recent history.
In an emotional contest at Lavietes Pavilion, the Big Green (18-8, 11-3 Ivy) beat Harvard (10-15, 7-7), 73-68, to move within a half game of the first-place Princeton Tigers. Princeton plays Penn in the Ivy League season finale tonight at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
Harvard earned mixed reviews in the role of sacrificial lamb, as it played a lackluster first half before matching Dartmouth's heart beat for beat in the second.
"I think we played sucky in the first half, and we stepped up in the second half," said senior center Rose Janowski, who scored 10 of her 13 points in the second.
It was a Janowski turnaround lay-in that brought the Crimson within five with 1:17 remaining. Down 14 points with just over seven minutes left, Harvard--its four seniors especially--refused to let the Big Green run away in the final minutes.
Co-captain Suzie Miller, who led the Crimson with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, set the tone. After a Janowski bucket brought Harvard within 12 with 6:39 to play, Miller intercepted a pass at midcourt, then hit a perimeter jumper on the ensuing Crimson possession.
Dartmouth missed on the other end, and on the rebound freshman point guard Jen Monti tore up the floor and found junior guard Courtney Egelhoff in perfect position on the left wing for a three-pointer. Egelhoff's bucket capped a 7-0 Harvard run.
The Big Green increased its lead to double digits twice more, but each time the Crimson fought back. A second Egelhoff trey, this time from the left corner, whittled Dartmouth's lead down to four, 70-66, with just 40 seconds to play.
But seconds later Dartmouth sophomore guard Sherryta Freeman drained two clutch free throws to give her team a daunting six-point advantage. Miller pulled the Crimson within four again, but it was too little, too late.
Down five with the clock winding down, freshman Katie Gates airballed an off-balance three-pointer into the hands of Dartmouth sophomore guard Courtney Banghart.
The Crimson's four seniors, playing their final game in a Harvard uniform, left more than just memories on the floor of the Lav Pav. Harvard's three leading scorers were Miller, Janowski and co-captain Sarah Russell, whose 12 points are two shy of a career best. Senior Kelly Kinneen was a terror on the defensive end.
"I thought we showed incredible heart, we never gave up and I was proud to be wearing a Harvard jersey tonight," Miller said. "The seniors were pumped. There ain't no doubt--we were ticked about how things were going in the first half."
An NBA-length Banghart three at the end of the first stanza sent the Big Green into the locker room with an eight-point lead, 35-27. Banghart led all scorers with a quiet 19, 14 of which came in the second half.
Harvard committed 11 turnovers in a first half reminiscent of the concentration lapses that have plagued it throughout the season. Dartmouth frequently alternated its defensive looks between man-to-man and unfamiliar zones, and the Crimson was duly fazed.
The Big Green's guards jumped into passing lanes aggressively, and the lack of a post threat--early foul trouble limited Janowski to just five minutes in the first--forced Harvard into a dangerous carousel of perimeter passes.
"Dartmouth was throwing junk defenses at us," said Harvard Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. "They used a 1-3-1 zone, which we don't offense often, and we were spending far too much time trying to figure out what [defense] they were in."
Although the score remained close throughout the first, Harvard's 8-6 lead just over four minutes into the game was the last advantage it enjoyed. The Crimson pulled within one late in the half when freshman Lindsay Ryba found Russell on the left block for an easy deuce.
Russell's score continued a string of three straight Harvard baskets, but the floodgates closed there. Junior swingman Liz Martin's foul-line jumper ended the Crimson streak as the Big Green closed the half on a 7-0 run capped by Banghart's three.
"Dartmouth has veterans," Delaney-Smith said. "They have four seniors, three of them have started for four years and their junior has started for three years. They are your classic veteran team--they are us last year. And they should win."
Last year's Harvard team won its third straight Ivy title and defeated top-seeded Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's West Regional. One year later, minus a set of five seniors that included superstar Allison Feaster '98, the Crimson finishes its season right at sea level.
"A lot of the disappointment we had this year came with inexperience, and that will lessen dramatically next year," Delaney-Smith said. "We all learned a lot more by losing than had we won. That's what it's all about--isn't this a college, and isn't this an education?"
The Big Green now bites its collective nails as it awaits the outcome of tonight's Penn-Princeton showdown. A Princeton win gives the Tigers their first outright Ancient Eight title since 1978, five years before the league began round-robin play.
Should the Tigers lose, Princeton and Dartmouth would share the title. A one-game playoff Saturday night at Yale would determine which team earns the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
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