Coming off its first conference win, Harvard women’s basketball hopes to improve to 8-0 at home with Ivy League weekend matchups against rivals Yale and Brown.
The Crimson (9-6, 1-1 Ivy) has not lost a home game since March 4, 2017, and looks to continue the streak in its first full weekend slate of conference play. Lavietes Pavilion has been a welcome home for Harvard against the Bulldogs (8-7, 1-1) and the Bears (13-2, 1-1). Yale’s last win in Cambridge came in 2012, and Brown has not beaten the Crimson on the road since 2015.
Harvard has won four of its last five in a span of hotly contested battles with non-conference and Ancient Eight opponents alike. This weekend marks the middle of its all-important opening Ivy League home stretch, with two more home Ivy League games before traveling again in February.
Although the Crimson has been playing well in the new year, Harvard is still haunted by the same issues it has been working to correct since the start of the season. The Crimson has been plagued by the turnover bug all season, giving the ball up at least 10 times in every game since an early road loss to Temple on Dec. 2. Harvard has averaged 15.7 turnovers per game so far this season. Its turnover margin of -2.33 per game is seventh in the Ancient Eight, ahead of only Columbia.
However, the point of emphasis on turnovers is slowly showing in important games, as the Crimson tallied just 11 giveaways against Dartmouth in its first conference victory this season.
“We’re coming off of a really great win this past weekend against Dartmouth,” senior co-captain Kirby Porter said. “That really served as a coming together moment for us, showing what we’re capable of on the floor.”
This improvement in turnovers will be a key this weekend, as the Bulldogs boast the best turnover margin in the conference at +5.60, thanks to an Ivy League-best 11.7 steals per game. No other team in the conference averages more than 9.6.
The pilfering Yale defense will force Harvard’s offense to avoid making turnovers, and the Crimson’s defense likewise will have its hands full all weekend. The Bears and the Bulldogs score more points than any other Ancient Eight teams. Brown has averaged 80.9 points a game, while Yale’s 70.6 is good for second best in the conference.
“Brown is a team full of scorers, but we trust our defense and trust our plan,” Porter said.
Harvard’s first two Ivy League games saw the defense concerned with the shooters of Dartmouth, the best team from behind the arc in the Ancient Eight so far this season. The Bulldogs are an entirely different matchup, shooting only 26.9 percent from beyond the arc, making paint dominance a key to their game. The Crimson will rely on sophomore forward Jeannie Boehm, who has posted 2.5 blocks per game this season, to control the game down low. Harvard has seen success down low so far this season, with its 41.9 rebounds per game second in the conference only to the Bears.
Brown’s offense is not as one-dimensional as Yale’s. The Bears’ league-best 46.1 rebounds per game are complemented by its shooting. Brown is second in the league in field goal shooting percentage with 42.3 percent. In addition, the Bears share the ball well, leading the Ivies in assists with 5.9 per game.
“We’ve been preparing a lot for their style of play, which is certainly different from the rest of the Ivies,” Boehm said. “They have that run-and-gun, and they like to shoot early in the shot clock.”
Brown’s electric offense has carried them to victories all season, as the Bears’ defense has been the worst scoring defense in the Ivy League, allowing 70.1 points per game.
The Crimson will look to capitalize on Brown’s weakness on the defensive side of the ball by sharing the basketball among its many scorers. Harvard, Brown, and Yale are the only teams in the Ancient Eight to boast three players averaging double-digit points per game. The Crimson’s top scoring trio of sophomore guard Katie Benzan, senior guard Taylor Rooks, and Boehm have averaged 12.6, 11.6, and 11.1 points per game, respectively. Ball sharing among the multiple scorers will be a key in a weekend chock-full of offensive weapons for each of Harvard’s rivals.
The rivalry against the Bulldogs specifically ignites a special type of excitement for the players.
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