Last-Second Win Powers Women's Basketball to Second in Ivy League

Junior guard Sydney Skinner dribbles around a screen set by senior Taylor Rooks.

A crucial last second stop by Harvard women’s basketball preserved an 87-85 victory over Brown on Saturday evening in a game that featured no shortage of offense. The home team’s 87 points were its second highest total of the year and helped the team advance to an 8-0 mark at home, moving the Crimson into second place in the conference.

Harvard (11-6, 3-1 Ivy) struggled from the field, shooting just 34 percent from three-point range, just a night after shooting 63 percent from beyond the arc against Yale. But the Crimson was able to battle back, employing solid rebounding and clutch late shooting to hand the Bears (13-4, 1-3) their second loss of the weekend.

“They’re a good team, they’re going to be tough for everyone to beat,” said coach Kathy Delaney Smith. “For us to win this game when our shots were not falling was great. I am very proud of my team’s effort and poise down the stretch.”

A contest that swung back and forth for most of the four quarters was decided in the last five seconds, when sophomore guard Katie Benzan made one of two free throws to give Harvard a two point lead.

“I needed to make both to seal the deal,” Benzan said of the late-game drama. “But one is better than none.”

Brown inbounded the ball to guard Dominique Leonidas, who dribbled the length of the court to try to tie the game and send it to overtime. But ferocious defense by junior guard Madeline Raster forced Leonidas into an off-balance shot that bounced harmlessly off the backboard and sent a jubilant Crimson team to its fourth consecutive win.

Instead of allowing Justine Gaziano or Shayna Metha to take the final shot, who scored 28 and 25 points respectively in Saturday’s game, Harvard’s frenetic defense forced the ball into the hands of Leonidas, a freshman averaging only three points per game.

The game had the makings of a classic from the start, as good early defense by the Crimson kept the Bears scoreless for the first two and a half minutes and allowed the hosts to jump out to a 9-0 lead, riding the momentum from Friday’s blowout win over Yale. But Brown replied fearlessly, scoring 11 unanswered points, part of a 23-2 run by the visitors.

Gaziano, a sophomore guard from Natick, Mass., was instrumental in the Bears’ run, scoring 17 first quarter points, equalling her season average. Gaziano converted all three of her first quarter three-pointers, and helped the Bears build an 11 point lead.

Harvard responded to the run by trying to tighten its defense and limit Brown’s fast-paced style of offense.

“We knew that they leaked out in transition,” Benzan said. “Once we stopped their transition baskets, it’s so much easier, just taking those easy shots away.”

A last-second three-pointer by senior guard Taylor Rooks narrowed the deficit to 29-21 entering the second quarter, and set the stage for a game that would feature late drama in three of the four quarters.

For a second consecutive night, Rooks anchored Harvard’s offense, scoring nine early points to help the hosts remain within striking distance. As she did Friday, Rooks surpassed 20 points, scoring 24 points and chipping in with seven rebounds, even more impressive due to her foul trouble. Playing only 27 minutes, and with four fouls down the stretch, Rooks converted four of five attempts from beyond the arc, crucial on a night when the typically sharpshooting Raster went 0-5 from three.

As the Crimson tried to cut into the Bears’ lead, the last three minutes of the half became Sydney Skinner time. The junior guard, who had been 1-6 shooting, exploded for three baskets and a beautiful assist to sophomore Jeannie Boehm.