The Harvard women’s basketball team (18-3, Ivy 6-2) capped its weekend with a dominant victory over rival Yale (11-10, Ivy 2-6) with a the 76-56 victory, its largest margin of victory over an Ancient Eight team this season. The Crimson has struggled to capitalize on early game leads for much of the season, but after a rough road trip the previous week Harvard sought to bounce back against their rival.
“I think we played really well, we moved the ball really well, and everyone got their touches,” freshman Katie Benzan said. “It was feel-good basketball. No one was ball hogging, no one was playing selfishly—it was just really fun.”
Strong performances by Benzan and sophomore guard Madeline Raster led the Crimson to its sixth Ivy League win. Benzan recorded her first career double-double with 19 points and 10 assists, while Raster recorded a career-high 24 points to propel Harvard to the decisive victory.
“I love playing with [Madeline]. She’s such a great shooter, scorer, and she’s great in the sense that when she messes up, she’s says ‘Oh that’s my bad.’ I love that responsibility of her,” Benzan said. “She doesn’t care who shoots, who scores, she just wants the one score up on the scoreboard. We complement each other really well—I give her good passes and then she kicks ahead to me. We’re just two peas in a pod.”
The entire unit appeared to march to the beat of the same drum, as the Crimson’s stifling defense along with lights out shooting (57 percent) overwhelmed the Bulldogs and resulted in Harvard doing something it has yet to do against an Ivy League opponent all season—get ahead and stay ahead.
“First time we beat someone by 20 in the Ivy League—[it’s] something we’ve been wanting to do, so we feel really proud about that,” co-captain Destiny Nunley said. “We moved the ball and we had our shooting percentage back to what we wanted it to be. We got a lot of shots up [in practice] this week so it definitely paid off.”
Nunley, who had 12 points and led the team with six boards, lead the effort on the defensive side of the ball as well, recording three blocks, a component that has been crucial to the Crimson’s success.
Similarly, Harvard’s improved shot selection was an equally vital part of its successful game-plan. Last week, the Crimson shot under 35 percent from the field, costing the team not only the winning streak, but the top spot in the Ivy League as well. Learning from last week’s tough losses was a focus in practice, according to the team.
“We know what we did wrong last weekend and we worked on it all week, so I did see what we worked on show up in the game,” head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “That’s why our shot selection was better, that’s why our shooting accuracy was better—it was because we executed better.”
As Harvard looks forward to a road trip to the Empire State, it hopes to be able to continue to build off huge leads, something it was unable to do against either Cornell or Columbia two weeks prior.
“I don’t want to say we’re not worried, but we’re expecting to play like we did tonight,” Nunley said. “Defense and rebounding was our top priority, so as long as we stick to that and keep that in mind, we’ll be fine.”
The relationships the young squad has formed over the course of the year has resulted in the Crimson being a legitimate Ivy League championship contender, and, although not the focus, has initiated whispers at a possible trip to the big dance in March.
“It starts off the court. We just make these great relationships off the court, whether it’s staying up really late in the library doing work together or singing karaoke together,” Benzan said. “It’s just making those relationships off the court and [moving them] onto the court. Building that trust and playing together is just icing on the cake.”
—Staff writer Stuart Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.