Harvard women’s basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith decided to take a gamble.
For 40 minutes, the coach ordered her players to sit back in a tightly-packed defensive zone, daring her athletic opponents from St. John’s to beat the Crimson with their jump shots.
The gamble paid off, as the visiting Red Storm (7-6) shot just 22-of-62 (35.5 percent) from the field and 5-of-15 from beyond the arc. Harvard’s offense did enough on the other side of the floor to secure the victory, as the Crimson (5-5) defeated St. John’s, 63-56, Thursday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion.
“We really didn’t cover the three,” said Delaney-Smith, whose squad led for the contest’s final 38 minutes. “We wanted a pack mentality. We wanted to play defense in the gaps, and I thought we did that really, really, well.”
The St. John's duo of Eugeneia McPherson and Shenneika Smith, who entered the contest shooting a combined 42 percent from the field, struggled against the zone, shooting 9-of-25 from the field.
“They’re an athletic, drive-and-kick kind of team,” said sophomore Christine Clark, who finished with 12 points. "That was our number one priority to close the gaps. Our zone did a very good job of talking and closing those gaps up so they couldn’t drive.”
Clark, the Crimson’s leading scorer who entered the game averaging 16.6 points per game, struggled shooting the ball, connecting on 2-of-15 attempts from the field. But Harvard received scoring from other places, as four Crimson players—Clark, junior forwards Emma Golen and Victoria Lippert, and co-captain Brogan Berry—finished with 12 points.
“I think that says it all,” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s all about the team effort.”
Despite having an off-shooting night, Clark played a critical role for the Crimson throughout the contest. The 5’11 guard grabbed a team-high nine rebound—five on the offensive glass—and added three steals.
“A lot of players that I’ve coached over the last 40 years generally sort of will get in their own heads and will maybe stop playing a little bit or get down on themselves [if they have a bad shooting performance],” Delaney-Smith said. “The opposite happens with [Clark]. I think she probably even works a little bit harder.”
With the Crimson clinging to a three-point lead with less than 30 seconds in the contest, it was Clark who came up with a critical steal. The sophomore dove to the ground to intercept an errant pass from St. John’s Amber Thompson, and then, from the ground, signaled for a timeout.
“Two of our players got a trap,” Clark recalled. “[Thompson] was definitely in trouble, so I knew she had to pass it out to somebody. Luckily she passed it out to where I thought she was going to, so I just dove on the floor.”
Coming out of the timeout, the Crimson successfully inbounded the ball to Berry, who was sent to the free throw line. The guard knocked down both attempts, sealing the win.
Harvard opened the contest on a tear, jumping out to an early 25-14 lead following a three-pointer from Golen with 8:05 to play. But after knocking down seven of its first nine attempts from the field, the Crimson’s offense went cold, shooting just 5-of-18 the rest of way.
Harvard’s offensive struggles could be attributed in large part to the Red Storm’s switch to a full-court press, which caused early problems for the Crimson.
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