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On Friday night, the Harvard women’s basketball team encountered a challenge to its perfect Ivy record from an unlikely opponent—Yale.
With 26 seconds left on the clock, the Bulldogs’ Bonnie Smith nailed a three-pointer to bring league cellar-dweller Yale (6-21, 3-11 Ivy) within two at 67-65. The Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game with Morgan Richards on the charity stripe, but she missed the free throws and sophomore center Reka Cserny made both of hers for the Crimson with just eight seconds remaining to secure Harvard’s 69-65 win in the John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, Conn.
Junior forward Hana Peljto led Harvard with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
“We connected really well with each other for 40 minutes,” Cserny said. “We had to win these last two games in order to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament next Sunday.”
Cserny was also a force, notching a double-double (24 points, 11 rebounds) in thirty-seven minutes of playing time.
Peljto and Cserny combined for all the Crimson points in the first seven minutes of play, when Harvard jumped out to a 16-9 lead.
Yale fought back, however, closing the gap to three at 29-26 four minutes before halftime.
Smith led the Bulldogs’ surge, almost singlehandedly shifting the momentum from Crimson to blue by draining a few key jumpers and playing solid defense. As she has all season, Smith carried the Bulldogs with 25 points and six boards.
Harvard answered Yale’s spurt, though, mounting an 11-3 run to enter the break leading 37-29.
Junior forward Tricia Tubridy quickly made her presence felt in the second half by playing stellar defense and corralling six of her 14 rebounds in the half’s first five minutes.
Despite Tubridy’s performance, Yale pulled within a basket of the Crimson at 45-43 with less than 14 minutes remaining.
“Yale had nothing to lose and played very loose,” Peljto said. “But we were controlled and showed composure when the game got close.”
In a contest of offensive surges, Harvard responded by scoring six unanswered points to build a comfortable eight-point lead.
The Bulldogs made one last valiant charge, however, as they scraped within one with just 2:39 left. After a pair of Crimson buckets, Smith hit her clutch three-pointer to bring Yale within two.
With a chance to tie with 26 seconds remaining, Richards misfired on two free throws, dashing the Bulldogs’ hopes of forcing overtime. Cserny then drained two free throws at the other end to ice the victory.
“There wasn’t a moment in the game when I was unsure about which team was going to win,” Cserny said.
Although she had been concerned about complacency after the Crimson clinched the league title, Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith was actually pleased with her team’s focus.
“I don’t have a lot of complaints about last night,” Delaney-Smith said on Saturday. “We made mistakes, but Yale played great. Last night’s close ballgame wasn’t a case of us not being ready.”
—Staff writer Sean W. Coughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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