In basketball, embarrassment can be excruciating, but it can also serve as a powerful motivator. As the second-place Harvard women’s basketball team entered the weekend against the Princeton Tigers and Penn Quakers (the Ivy League’s third- and fourth-place teams, respectively), no one needed to explain to them the importance of winning. Yet, it still took an embarrassing first half against Princeton (Feb. 20), in which the Crimson trailed 6-28 at one point, for Harvard to muster a bit of motivation.
To say the Crimson played an ugly half of basketball does little justice to all things ugly. After 20 minutes of play, Harvard glared down the barrel of what would have easily been their most mortifying losses of the season. Starting the game, the Crimson missed 19 of their first 20 shot attempts, finishing the half with a 14.8 (4-27) field goal percentage and down 15-34. And to make matters worse, Harvard was outscored in the half, 24-15, by just two Princeton starters (both had 12 points).
“I was very, very, very angry with this team,” said Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith about her team’s first-half performance. “It may have been [the] worst half of basketball in my 27 years. … It was the worst defense in the entire world coupled with the worst offense in the entire world.”
But the frustrated and embarrassed team that entered the Harvard locker room was not the same one that stormed the court in the second half. From the start, the Crimson put together a comeback of epic proportions, opening the period with a staggering 27-5 run. The team came out hot and firing, and by the game’s 6:44 mark, Harvard had already stolen the lead.
“It could not have gotten worse,” reflected Delaney-Smith. “All the more reason why I admire this team is because [they were] that awful. Princeton was laughing at us, they were toying with us, they should have laughed at us.”
The biggest difference in the second half was — hands down — Harvard’s more aggressive play around the basket, and it ultimately paid off with a win.
As an unstoppable force in the post, sophomore forward Emma Markley scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in that second half to guide the Crimson to victory.
“We didn’t come out strong enough in the first half, dug ourselves into a big hole, but we worked ourselves back, step by step. We shouldn’t have come out that way to begin with,” said Markley, who also added eight rebounds and three blocks.
“[In the second half] we actually ran our system, we were less frantic, we were balanced, we had team play versus everyone trying to go one-on-one,” said Delaney-Smith.
Once the Crimson took the lead, they never trailed again, and defeated Princeton by a score of 54-50.
The next night against Penn, determined to avoid another slow start, Harvard put together a dominant first half against the Quakers, leading by as much at 17 points, and holding Penn to just 18 points in the first stanza. The team was once again led by Markley, who asserted herself in the post, scoring 24 points to go along with 14 rebounds. Brogan Berry ’12 added 19 points and Emily Tay ’09 scored 14, tallying nine assists, as the Crimson (15-8) romped the Quakers by a final score of 69-54 and advanced to a 7-2 Ivy League record.
With five games remaining and the Crimson currently two games behind Ivy leader Dartmouth, the recent victories keep Harvard in contention for the Ivy League crown.
Friday and Saturday, the Crimson will hit the road to take on the newly seated, third-place Columbia Lions (Feb. 27) and fourth-place Cornell Big Red (Feb. 28), as they enter their last two weeks of play.