With all the subtlety of a slam dunk, the Harvard women’s basketball team shot into first place in the Ivy rankings following a two-game home sweep against Princeton and Penn this past Friday and Saturday (Feb. 9-10). Really, though, Harvard’s spirited play and subsequent rise to the top might be better characterized as a blindfolded slam-dunk. After an 0-6 start and four-game slide dating back to December, who saw this turnaround coming?
Save a 61-53 loss opposite Yale on Jan. 26, the Crimson (8-12; 6-1 Ivy) have captured six of their past seven contests in the new year by an average margin of victory of 19 points – a stat hugely owing to Harvard’s 65-36 drubbing of Columbia on Feb. 2, and most recently, the Cambridge club’s 80-57 handling of the reigning league champion Tigers and 87-74 dismissal of Penn on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
In both contests over the weekend, the Crimson outran and outgunned their opponents (shooting 51 percent from the field and from behind the arc) thanks to a firm command of the boards. Against Princeton, Harvard held a 42-36 advantage in the rebound department to keep the Tigers’ league-leading offense at bay. In Saturday’s contest, meanwhile, the Crimson taunted the visitors with a 32-23 rebounding edge, nearly doubling the Quakers’ total on the defensive end (21 to 11).
Steals also created loads of scoring opportunities for the Crimson, who tallied 35 points off turnovers against Princeton. Harvard, meanwhile, trailed by no more than a bucket all weekend long.
Leading the surge of late has been backcourt duo Niki Finelli ’09 and Lindsay Hallion ’08. In Friday’s contest, the two combined for 43 points as Hallion managed a career-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The next night, Finelli got her career high, sinking six of seven three-point attempts and all eight of her free throws for a 26-point effort.
The sophomore – who collected her first player of the week nod from the league this past Monday (Feb. 12) – also recorded three steals against Penn, including a pickoff with 3:04 remaining to squelch a Tiger rally. Sophomore Katie Rollins’ subsequent layup quickly restored the Harvard advantage to a secure double-digit lead, 80-57. And though Penn quickly cut the deficit back to 11, a pair of Finelli free throws served to put the game, yet again, out of reach for the visitors.
The Crimson resume play Friday (Feb. 16) when Brown (7-16; 2-6 Ivy) comes to town. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.