Resilient Crimson Topples UC Santa Barbara in Comeback Thriller

Late rally sparks Harvard victory over Gauchos in Thunderdome

The Harvard women’s basketball team is checking off credentials on its non-conference list as it readies for Ivy play. Its most recent acquisition? A tough, come-from-behind win on the road.

The Crimson (7-4) rallied from seven points down in the final two minutes to beat UC Santa Barbara (3-5) in a 61-59 nailbiter Dec. 17 at the Thunderdome in Santa Barbara, Calif.

After the two teams traded leads for most of the second half, the Gauchos used an 8-2 run with under five minutes to play to put themselves up by seven with 1:17 to play. The run set the stage for Harvard’s own furious scoring streak. Sophomore guard Christine Matera and co-captain Niki Finelli hit back-to-back shots from distance, which they sandwiched around a Brogan Berry steal.

Up by one, UCSB center Jenna Green traveled in the paint to send the ball back to the Crimson and set up senior forward Katie Rollins’ game-winning layup. After yet another Gaucho turnover, Rollins hit a free throw with three seconds remaining to seal the win.

UCSB’s late-game seven-point lead was the largest either team had enjoyed all evening. The matchup featured 18 lead changes and six ties.

In the tightly contested matchup, last-minute defense made the difference. While allowing the Gauchos to shoot 47 percent from the field on the night—a clip that Harvard can’t expect to allow in a victory—the Crimson held UCSB scoreless in the final two minutes.

“They got grizzled by our defense, and we were able to capitalize on their mistakes,” Finelli said.

The win was the third straight for Harvard after a disappointing loss at Boston University on Dec. 9.

“It’s a huge game for us in that we’ve been able to come back from that game,” Finelli said. “[UCSB] plays in a big conference, and it’s a big confidence builder for us to prove that we can play with some really talented teams out here.”

The thrilling ending masked some ugly second-half shooting numbers in the Crimson box score. After shooting well in the first half (44 percent), Harvard connected on just 8-of-34 attempts from the field—including 4-of-13 from three.

But two of those long-range shots that did fall proved to be the game’s biggest. While Matera shot just 4-for-11 on the night (3-for-9 from distance), she has come on of late, scoring 11 points in each of her last two contests.

“Every shooter has a stretch of time where they’re just not feeling things—they’re in a slump,” Finelli said of Matera.

Finelli led the team with 13 points and eight rebounds. Emma Markley’s six-point night ended her streak of double-digit scoring at 10 games.

“I liked the team determination,” Crimon coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “It wasn’t our best team basketball, but there was this feeling of the team coming together with a will to win.”

Both teams started with hot shooting from the floor, with the Crimson gaining an early, but short-lived, advantage. Berry, Finelli, and Rollins all hit jumpers—with Berry adding a three-pointer for good measure—en route to a 10-6 lead after four minutes. The Gauchos kept pace, and while one of Matera’s threes gave Harvard a five-point lead with 7:41 to go in the half, the Crimson entered the locker room with just a two-point edge. Green paced UCSB with 10 of her 16 points before the break.

The two squads traded baskets for most of the second half, and only in the waning minutes did Harvard appear to be in trouble. Two straight baskets from Kat Suderman (10 points) put the Gauchos up seven, setting the stage for the Crimson’s last-minute heroics.

—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at