If the Crimson (17-9, 10-2 Ivy) defeat Brown (2-24, 1-11) and Yale (8-17, 6-6) on the road this weekend, the team will clinch the Ancient Eight title and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Championships. Harvard controls its fate, and the players are getting excited. The Big Dance is just around the corner.
“We’re in control of our own destiny,” captain Lindsay Hallion said. “It’s what you dream about. We want to go get it done and get back to the tournament.”
The Crimson is in the driver’s seat this weekend because of the team’s crucial 51-48 triumph over Cornell (17-8, 9-3) last Saturday in a packed Lavietes Pavilion.
“I thought it was a great game,” Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “I’ve always said it’s harder to stay at the top than to get to the top. We would not have walked away with the win if it were not for the energy in the building.”
Harvard also got some help from Dartmouth (12-14, 9-3) last Friday, when the Big Green took down the Big Red, which was in first place at the time. The Crimson currently sits alone atop the standings, while Cornell and Dartmouth trail by a single game.
Hallion, who ranks second on the team with 11.0 points per contest, is coming off a big game against the Big Red in which she tallied 18 points and made critical free throws down the stretch.
Leading the squad with 11.3 points per game is junior forward Katie Rollins, who, over the last four contests, has averaged 16.3 points per game. Together, Rollins and Hallion will look to maintain the inside-outside balance that has propelled Harvard’s success this season.
The Crimson’s first game of the weekend is tonight against the Bears in Providence. Earlier in the season, Harvard defeated Brown at home, 70-46. Although the struggling Bears have only won one league game this season, they unexpectedly gave the Crimson trouble in the first half of this matchup. Harvard went into the break with a slim 31-27 lead but regained its composure and dominated Brown in the second half.
“The win-loss record is deceptive this year,” Delaney-Smith said. “The league is very young, so the record is not indicative of how good they are. Brown is better than that.”
The Bears do not a have any players averaging in double figures, but senior Ann O’Neal, the squad’s leading scorer, has been on a tear lately. She averaged 16.0 points per game last weekend.
Against the Bulldogs on Feb. 8, the Crimson pulled out a 65-55 win at home. Freshman Emma Markley led the team with 14 points and junior Emily Tay was all over the court recording 12 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and five steals. Defensively, Harvard held Yale to just 27.8 percent shooting.
To repeat this performance, the Crimson will need to keep its composure offensively and play tough team defense again.
“Yale is doing a great job of putting pressure on the guards and forwards and getting in the passing lanes,” junior Niki Finelli said. “We will have to treat that effectively and make sure we’re not affected by that pressure. Also, stopping their shooters is always key.”
To take down the Elis, Harvard will have to contain sophomore Melissa Colborne, who is averaging 21.0 points per game over her last four contests. Colborne has been named Ivy League Player of the Week four times this season.
“If she gets hot during the game we’ll make an adjustment,” Hallion said. “The most important thing is playing Harvard basketball. We just need to play hard on defense and play as a team.”
Last season, the Crimson’s only Ivy League loss came at the hands of Yale. The players, however, are completely focused on this year’s game.
“This is a completely new season,” Hallion said. “We’re in the driver’s seat and there’s a lot more to play for.”
Even though battles with the Bulldogs are always heated, tomorrow’s game has extra incentives. The outcome will decide whether Harvard will take the Ivy League title for the second year in a row and the Elis would like nothing more than to spoil the Crimson’s season.
“They’ll have the game hyped up,” Hallion said. “It’s a tough place to play but it’s a fun place to play. I’m sure we’ll rise to the challenge.”
The Brown tip-off is set for 7 p.m. tonight, and the Yale game will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
—Staff writer Jake I. Fisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.