The Harvard women’s basketball team came into Saturday’s Ivy League opener looking for a dominant win over a struggling Dartmouth squad. However, a poor shooting performance and uncharacteristic play of upperclassman leaders led to a Harvard victory, 70-65, that was anything but dominant.
“Once again, I love that my team toughed it out,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We found a way to win in a game where we didn’t necessarily play our best.”
The Big Green (5-9, 0-1 Ivy League) gave the Crimson (12-1, 1-0) all it could handle in the third quarter, as the Crimson was limited to nine points compared to Dartmouth’s 17.
“I don’t know what went wrong in the third quarter,” Delaney-Smith said. “I don’t have a reason. We have been practicing well, and we appeared to be ready to play. We have to go back and watch film to figure it out. I think we should have won by more, and I think our reaction to our poor shooting affected our game.”
Freshman Jeannie Boehm, freshman Katie Benzan, and co-captain Destiny Nunley all got into foul trouble early, and Harvard had to look to its bench for relief as crucial pieces of the team were forced to come out.
“We aren’t playing well and it comes down to somebody making a big play,” Delaney-Smith said. “Three of our five starters got into early foul trouble in the first half. Having three players out early is never good.”
The Big Green suffocated Harvard’s front court and forced the backcourt to make plays. Starting forwards Nunley and Boehm had four and two points, respectively, for the game. With the Crimson’s two dominant forwards limited to 36 percent from the field, Harvard did not play up to its season averages in both rebounding and defense.
“This is a bit abnormal for us because in the past when our shots aren’t falling we rely on other parts of our game,” Nunley said. “However, this time we got in our feelings a little bit, dropped our shoulders and put our heads down, which is very uncharacteristic of us. I think that it was definitely a learning experience and we just have to bounce back from it. We need to depend more on our defense and rebounding, not just our three-point shots.”
The Crimson, although missing the three starters early in the game, ended the first half leading by three points. It was led by sophomore guard Madeline Raster who had 15 points and five boards in the first half. Junior guard Taylor Rooks provided quality minutes off the bench as well, producing 10 points and four rebounds. Despite the strong offensive performance, it was Rooks’ effort on the defensive end that impressed the coaching staff.
“I expected that from Taylor Rooks all along,” Delaney-Smith said. “She wants to play and she wants to win. So we have been [telling] her that if she wants to play, she will be playing defense, and she did that very well today. She is an effective offensive player, but when she plays the defense she is capable of playing, then she is a very good player. I felt that this was her best game so far.”
Despite Harvard’s starters returning to the game in the second half, Dartmouth refused to go quietly and limited the hot-handed Raster to two points after intermission. Only two Crimson players scored more than six points in the second half. Benzan, however, refused to be limited in the second half after early foul trouble, and continued the quality play of the young guards on the team.
The play of underclassmen Raster and Benzan was critical in Saturday’s victory. The coaching staff as well as upperclassmen grow increasingly impressed as the two young guards grow and mature as the season rolls on.
“They’re both so much fun to watch and to play with,” Nunley said. “They’re incredibly unselfish for how great scorers they are. I think they are just selfless, and that contributes to how good they are. We want Madeline to shoot all day, everyone is confident in her shot, I know I depend on it. Katie is really young, but it is so impressive how well she has transitioned into D-1 play.”
Saturday’s victory not only marks a win in the Ivy League, but was also the 12th in a row for Harvard. It is the team’s longest win streak since the 2006-2007 campaign.
Despite the win and the streak, the Crimson will have a chance to improve upon its fundamentals with a nonconference tune-up against La Salle on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
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