Dec. 22, 2003 was the last time the Harvard women’s basketball team had beaten a Big East opponent. Eight years, to the date, had passed. Two thousand nine hundred and twenty-two hours had gone by. Seventy thousand one hundred and twenty-eight minutes had ticked off the clock.
But on Dec. 22, 2011, when the Crimson took on St. John’s, it all came down to the last thirty seconds.
It took a trap, a diving steal, four clutch free throws, and eight years, but when the final buzzer finally sounded, Harvard escaped with the 63-56 win over the Red Storm.
“It definitely showed what we are capable of and how we can get over tough opponents and really play to the best of our ability,” junior Victoria Lippert says. “It’s just indicative of how much talent and potential we do have and that we can compete with anyone [when] we step on the floor.”
That game eight years before was against Providence, a team that went 4-23 overall and 0-16 within its conference. The Crimson defeated the Friars 73-59 in a contest in which Providence shot only 34.4 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from the charity stripe.
This season, Harvard’s Big East opponent was a little more impressive. St. John’s amassed a 24-10 record on the year, going 13-3 within one of the most competitive conferences in the nation.
Not only did it make it to the NCAA tournament, the third-seeded Red Storm reached the Sweet Sixteen before eventually losing to No. 2 Duke.
In order to beat its talented guest, the Crimson relied on an evenly balanced attack. Co-captain Brogan Berry, juniors Emma Golen and Victoria Lippert as well as sophomore Christine Clark each scored 12 points, while Clark grabbed nine boards and both Berry and junior Miriam Rutzen dished out five dimes.
Harvard started out the game with the momentum, taking advantage of its hot shooting to gain an early 14-4 lead. But, as would become somewhat of a common theme throughout the season, the Crimson slowly let the Red Storm creep back into the game, and, at halftime, Harvard held only a three-point lead, 32-29.
The second half followed a similar pattern as the Crimson pushed its lead into the teens before St. John’s instigated a full-court press and stole its way into a tight game going into the final few minutes.
And then the adrenaline kicked in.
“I just remember being excited, thinking, ‘Cool, we’re going to get this one; let’s go out and finish as strong as we can,’” Rutzen says. “I think that physically showed on the court at that point.”
With 30 seconds left and a 59-56 Harvard lead, a Crimson trap enabled Clark to run the lanes and pick off a telegraphed Red Storm pass. After diving for the ball, the Harvard guard signaled to the referee for a timeout. When the break was over, Clark inbounded the ball to Berry, who was quickly fouled and sent to the line for two shots.
The senior sunk both attempts and, from there, the game was all but over. After another failed attempt from St. John’s and two more successful free throws from the home team, the Crimson’s first win over a Big East team in eight years was officially complete.
Immediately following the game, Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith attributed her team’s victory to its composure throughout the contest.
“I just loved our poise, [and] I loved our teamwork,” Delaney-Smith said. “We have the tools to do it, but sometimes we panic, and we did not panic [today].”
After mid-December only five teams defeated the Red Storm. Along with the Crimson, Marquette, Duke, UConn, a No. 1 seed at the NCAA tournament, and Notre Dame, another No. 1 seed who went all the way to the NCAA championship game, also defeated St. John’s.
For Berry, one of the biggest benefits of the win was its positive effect on the rest of the season.
“It was definitely a huge confidence booster for us,” Berry says. “We knew that if we could play with a team like St. John’s, we should be able to play with any team in the Ivy League…. It came at a great time in the season, and we really hit our stride going into league play.”
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.