Harvard (16-13, 9-6 Ivy) dropped its semifinal contest against Penn (24-5, 13-2) 91-62 at the Lee Amphitheater this past Saturday night, exiting the Ivy League Tournament in the semifinals for the third consecutive year.
Despite boasting one of the best defenses in the country, it was the Quaker offense that was the star of the game tonight. Shooting 54.4% from the field and having five players score in double figures, Penn’s offense was seemingly unstoppable. The Quakers scored over 20 points in every quarter, and dominated the game from start to finish.
“I am completely shocked by how we started this game and how we responded to normal things in a basketball game,” said head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith. “Whether it’s an official’s call you don’t agree with or a missed shot… instead of us getting mad and digging in a little bit we just went back on our heels and I never expected my team to do that. I am shocked by that and I don’t have an answer for why we reacted that way.”
It was not supposed to go this way.
The first two matchups between Harvard and Penn went to at least one overtime, with the Crimson sneaking past the Quakers in double overtime in Cambridge before Penn returned the favor in an overtime win at the Palestra a few weeks later.
“We talked a lot about putting 40 minutes together,” said junior forward Jadyn Bush. “The biggest difference between those two overtime games and tonight was that before we were able to put 40 minutes of solid defense together regardless of whether our shots were falling. Tonight our shots not falling greatly affected our defense and it ended up costing us.”
Both teams expected another close one on Saturday night, but it was clear pretty early on that this night was going to be different. After Harvard took its only lead of the game, Penn went on a 12-0 run to end the first quarter, then hit another three to start the second to push its lead to 24-10.
“Honestly they started in the zone,” said Delaney-Smith. “They had a game plan to catch and shoot threes from kids that maybe don’t have that role all year long. They have great rebounders and we were supposed to box them out. They just hit the shots and we reacted really poorly to that perfect flow they had at the start of the game and I just couldn’t get my kids to recover unfortunately.”
The Crimson never got close after that. For a brief moment at the start of the third quarter, it appeared that Harvard might yet get back into the game. It forced a steal, leading to a three from junior guard Katie Benzan — who ended up leading the team with 12 points — to cut the lead to 15. When the Quakers turned the ball over a second consecutive time, it seemed as if the tide was changing.
But Penn quickly regained control, scoring 11 of the next 14 points to push the lead to 23 and eventually extending the margin to 26 at the end of the third quarter. Russell led the way for the Quakers, scoring 20 points and adding four assists as she looked in control of the offense throughout.
“When your shots don’t fall, it’s tough to get into that role or that zone, but that’s the sport of basketball, sometimes they fall, sometimes they don’t,” Benzan said. “Regardless, we have to keep that intensity on the defensive end. They just played us much tougher. They got to the 50-50 balls and the long rebounds. When you’re not making shots on one end, and they’re outhustling you on the other, it’s a tough combination. When you have that combination, you unfortunately lose a big one, and it’s really hard to have that loss here at the tournament.”
In the fourth quarter, the desperate Crimson resorted to playing more physically and to taking more risks defensively. Harvard committed 13 fouls in the fourth quarter, leading to 17 Penn free throws. With frustration mounting, senior guard Nani Redford committed her fourth foul in the backcourt with 3:23 to go, then slammed the ball on the floor out of frustration. The referees gave Redford a technical foul, ending her night and her Ivy League career and serving as a fitting coda to a bitterly disappointing night for the Crimson.
Harvard will await word on whether it will participate in an invitational tournament in the upcoming days.
— Staff writer Lev Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Staff writer Mahtab Shihab can be reached at email@example.com.