After St. John’s snapped its six-game winning streak in a loss last weekend, the Harvard women’s basketball team will have motivation to make a strong showing at the Arizona State Classic in Phoenix, Ariz., this weekend.
This tournament is special for some of the players as they return to their home state of Arizona.
“We’re excited to go out to Arizona because we have sophomore [guard] Shilpa [Tummala]’s family out there, and [co-captain] Christine [Clark]’s family is out there, so we’re excited to go out to their home turf,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said.
Up first for the Crimson (6-2) will be an unfamiliar team.
“Our first game is Long Beach State, and then we don’t know who we’re playing next, so really, we’re just preparing for Long Beach State right now,” Clark said.
But Harvard, despite never having seen the 49ers (4-2) before, will be able to find success if it follows the game plan on Saturday, according to Delaney-Smith.
“[Long Beach State is] going to play something that we haven’t really seen, but they’re probably also going to zone us,” Delaney-Smith said. “We’re a hard team to zone if we’re shooting anywhere near how we should shoot.”
The 49ers currently boast a four-game winning streak after losing their first two games of the season.
“I think that we’re perfectly capable and should beat them,” Clark said. “We just have to make sure that we execute our game plan and the scout’s [game plan] and follow that.”
Averaging 12.7 points per contest, Long Beach State guard Lauren Spargo will be looking to break through the Crimson’s defense and post another high-scoring performance. Fellow guard Raven Benton has been another offensive weapon for the team, averaging 11.2 points over Long Beach State’s six games.
“Defense is always our number one priority,” Clark said. “We’ll just make sure to try to make them feel uncomfortable on the defensive end and make sure that we pay more attention to those scorers.”
Harvard also has its share of offensive firepower. Though Clark scored just 12 points in the loss to St. John’s, the co-captain has tallied at least 20 points in each of the Crimson’s wins, including tying her career-high of 28 in a win over Northeastern.
Junior forward Temi Fagbenle netted a career-high 20 points in Sunday’s loss and has averaged 10.3 rebounds per game. Standing at 6’4”, Fagbenle presents a unique defensive challenge to teams taking on Harvard. In contrast, the 49ers’ tallest player is listed at 6’3”.
“[Temi] will have the advantage against Long Beach State for sure,” Delaney-Smith said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do to play her. I suspect they’ll try to smother her inside, so that’ll change her role. She’ll have to do something a little bit different.”
On Sunday, the Crimson jumped out over St. John’s to head into halftime with a 36-30 lead, but ultimately Harvard fell to the Red Storm, 81-76. St. John’s notched 11 steals and outscored Harvard in the second half, 51-40, to overcome its slow start.