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Women’s Basketball To Take on Killer P’s

By Samantha Lin, Crimson Staff Writer

The last time that the Princeton women’s basketball team visited Lavietes Pavilion, it saw a 33-game winning streak snapped by a Crimson team led by then-senior Victoria Lippert’s 21 points.

Lippert may have graduated, but Harvard (17-5, 7-1 Ivy) is looking to repeat last year’s result when it takes on the Killer P’s to close out a four-game homestand. The Crimson will face the Quakers (16-5, 6-1) on Friday night, followed by the Tigers (15-6, 6-1) on Saturday, in an effort to extend its 21-game winning streak at Lavietes.

With just one league loss to date, Harvard is poised to contend for the Ancient Eight title this year, and this weekend’s matchups represent perhaps the biggest hurdle for the Crimson in its quest to take back the crown for the first time since 2008.

Harvard sits alone atop the Ivy League, with Princeton and Penn tied in second, just a half game behind. The three teams sit far ahead of the rest of the pack, and this weekend’s contests have the potential to shake up the league standings.

“We know that from here on out, we have to win,” junior guard Ali Curtis said. “I think we have a sense of, I like to say, swag on our team that we’ve never had before. It’s exciting to be able to come into the gym and say we are confident in our abilities this year, and if everything plays out right and we can play our game, that banner will be ours.”

The Tigers have won the last four Ancient Eight championships. Princeton managed to give the Crimson a scare when the two last faced each other earlier this season at Jadwin Gymnasium, but Harvard ultimately snapped a four-game losing streak at Princeton’s homecourt with a 78-68 win.

A 14-point lead at halftime shrank to just one late in the second half as the Tigers went on a 12-point run. Strong foul shooting—14 of the Crimson’s final 16 points came from behind the charity stripe—carried the squad to victory, but the close win prompted Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith to heavily emphasize the importance of correcting mistakes to maintain advantages down the stretch.

“That’s unfortunately an occurrence that happens in almost every game,” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s just losing momentum, and I never really felt that we were going to lose that game. We know what they did to come back on us, so we know what we have to do to prevent that from happening."

Co-captain guard Christine Clark went 11-of-12 from the free-throw line—nine of which came in the final six minutes—and put up 25 points in that contest to lead the Crimson. The senior has spearheaded Harvard’s offensive production all year, averaging 16.7 points per game this season. Junior forward Temi Fagbenle has also been a notable contributor in the post, averaging 12.1 points per contest.

The Crimson’s frontcourt is anchored by senior forward Melissa Mullins and Fagbenle, who use their combined heights to force opponents into wayward shots. Harvard held Tigers guard Blake Dietrick, who averages 16 points per game, to just eight in the teams’ January meeting, a statistic the Crimson will likely have to repeat if it hopes to come away victorious a second time.

A day after Harvard outlasted Princeton, the Quakers handed the Crimson its only conference loss of the season. Penn shot just 36.4 percent from the floor, but Harvard countered the lackluster attack with an even poorer performance of its own—the Crimson converted just 18.3 percent of its shots, a season low.

Though Delaney-Smith called it one of the most bizarre experiences in her 30-plus years of coaching, the team recognizes the importance of not just chalking up the night to a fluke.

“Eighteen percent is not indicative of what we’re able to do, but there’s nothing that says it won’t happen again,” Curtis said. “We have to know how to make changes on the fly and how to attack their press, push the ball around, and get through their zone. But if we’re not shooting well, we’re going to have to find other ways to score and find a way to stop them defensively.”

Penn boasts the stingiest defense in the league, allowing just 57.2 points per game, and displays a balanced offensive attack in three players—guard Alyssa Baron, center Sydney Stipanovich, and forward Kara Bonenberger—who consistently score in the double digits.

But when the Crimson takes the court this weekend, it will attempt to put aside the longstanding rivalry with Princeton or any thoughts of revenge against Penn, and instead execute the game plan to win, according to Curtis.

“Obviously, this weekend is a very important one for us, but I think what’s been our focus this year is that going into every weekend, every weekend is the same,” Curtis said. “Every Ivy League team that we play is great competition, and I think if we go into the weekend thinking that and hoping that we can play our game, we won’t worry so much about our scoreboard.”

—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at samantha.link@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LinSamnity.

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