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Tight defense from the Lafayette women’s basketball team may have forced Harvard co-captain Hana Peljto to change her jersey, but it sure couldn’t slow her down.
Despite a brief trip to the locker room after her standard No. 23 was spoiled by a spot of blood—forcing a shift to the No. 22—Peljto scored a school record-tying 39 points, including 23 in the second half, propelling the Crimson (7-7, 0-1 Ivy) to a 73-52 victory over the winless Leopards (0-14, 0-1 Patriot).
Peljto equaled the all-time high, first set by Allison Feaster ’98, with 4:28 remaining, but was pulled with 1:54 to go by Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who was unaware of her star’s proximity to the record.
“I would have loved to have let her do that,” Delaney-Smith said. “I’m sad I did not know that.”
Though she was able to score 16 points in the first period, both Peljto and her teammates struggled to find their touch early, making just 14 of a whopping 42 attempted shots.
Unable to find its rhythm following unexpected losses to Dartmouth and Quinnipiac, Harvard strained to accomplish too much at once, according to Delaney-Smith.
“We probably tried too hard in the first half,” she said. “I think that’s what we saw. I think we saw athletes trying too hard to get it back.”
Highlighting those difficulties was the Crimson’s woeful first-half three-point shooting. Harvard made none of its 13 three-point attempts in the initial frame, an early bad sign coming on the heels of a seven-for-30 outing against Quinnipiac.
“We shoot a lot of threes,” said Peljto, who made three of her seven attempts from beyond the arc. “Sometimes they fall and sometimes they don’t. So we just kept shooting.”
Peljto certainly did, setting school records for both field goals and attempts while sinking 16-of-29 after an eight-for-18 performance in the first half in which she missed all three of her attempts from three-point range.
Those 18 shots in the opening period equalled one more than the entire Leopard squad attempted.
Keeping the pace with Peljto, Harvard as a team knocked down 17-of-33 shots in the second half, while hitting five of its 10 three pointers.
But the key to unlocking the Crimson’s offense lay not in better luck on the rims, but stepping up its intensity at the defensive end.
“We started to be more aggressive, taking more chances and getting more steals,” Peljto said. “That’s what led to great offensive production.”
Starting the second half with a rigid press that generated seven of Lafayette’s 33 turnovers in under five minutes, Harvard netted several easy baskets to stretch a four-point halftime lead into a 15-point advantage just 4:24 later. During that stretch, Peljto scored nine points—six on layups—driving a 16-2 Crimson run that sent the Leopards reeling.
“I think pretty consistently since we started our downward spiral our defense is the first thing that went,” Delaney-Smith said. “We picked up full [court defense] to sort of reemphasize that it’s all about defense. We’re not really trying to steal the ball or do anything in the backcourt. We’re just trying to emphasize defense.”
And Peljto wasn’t about to let the Lafayette off that easily.
With junior center Reka Cserny sent to the sidelines after injuring her sternum while attempting to draw a charging foul, Peljto shouldered the lion’s share of the load, particularly in the low post.
In addition to snagging 13 rebounds—eight on the offensive glass—Peljto provided a solid presence in the paint by allowing her defenders to achieve position in front before receiving lob passes over the top for an easy deuce. The strategy contributed to Peljto’s 11-point run over the course of a 5:43 stretch during the middle of the second period.
The buckets were particularly timely, with each matching a Leopard basket and thereby thwarting a potential comeback from the underdogs.
But the key to those scoring opportunities was not due primarily to poor Lafayette defending, but to consistently solid Harvard ball movement.
Though the Crimson opened the game with sloppy ball handling, enabling the Leopards to grab an early lead before hanging tough through halftime, crisp, side-to-side passing drove Harvard’s second half offense.
“I want more ball movement,” Delaney-Smith said. “I want the ball inside more. I want them to get easier shots rather than the first three-point shot they see.”
Co-captain Tricia Tubridy and sophomore Kate Mannering, when not threading the seams to find Peljto under the basket, contributed 12 and eight points, respectively, with all but six coming in the second half.
“[Mannering] needs to translate her practice confidence into the game,” Delaney-Smith said. “She’s just getting better and better as a player. Maybe this is her bust out game.”
Though Peljto would cool down the rest of the way, scoring just three points from the foul line prior to exiting the game, the Harvard defense was just heating up.
Generating seven more turnovers in the process, the Crimson held Lafayette to a mere seven points over the final 10:06, collectively slamming the door on the Leopard’s already dwindling hopes for a chance at victory.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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