Despite trailing by as much as 13 points late in the contest, Harvard women’s basketball (10-9, 4-3 Ivy League) completed a furious fourth quarter comeback to notch a 70-63 victory over conference foe Penn (7-11, 2-4). The victory marked the Crimson’s first win at the Quakers’ home venue, The Palestra, since 2012.
Four Crimson players reached double digits in points against Penn, led by junior guard McKenzie Forbes with 18 points. Junior guard Annie Stritzel (12), sophomore guard Lola Mullaney (11), and junior guard Maggie McCarthy (11) were the other points leaders. The two remaining starters, first-year guard Harmoni Turner and senior guard Tess Sussman, each contributed double digit rebounds. Forbes also led the way with 4 assists in the contest.
Penn junior guard Kayla Padilla started the game firing on all cylinders, going on a 9-2 run by herself to give the Quakers an early advantage. The teams then traded several baskets, but Penn remained in control, holding a commanding 13-6 lead. Harvard struggled in the first quarter against the Quakers, shooting 3-for-18 from the floor. However, with one second left in the quarter, Forbes nailed a buzzer beater three-pointer to cut Penn’s lead to four.
“Penn did play pretty good defense,” said Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith in response to her team’s poor offensive start. “But I think more was due to the fact that we just did not execute very well. We were doing things that were uncharacteristic of us.”
The Quakers continued their hot start in the second quarter, widening its lead to 18-11. Stritzel delivered an offensive spark for the Crimson when, playing the role of super sub, she tallied four points in under a minute. Following a pair of three pointers from Forbes, Harvard trailed only 23-21. However, Harvard’s offensive struggles reemerged as the team was held scoreless for two minutes until Stritzel delivered a three-pointer to end the dry spell. The teams traded more baskets, and Penn ended the first half with a 33-28 lead.
“We like to attack and run,” coach Delaney-Smith said. “But, I felt we were making too many quick, flash, bad decisions on the offensive end of the floor. That’s what I think hurt us in the first half.”
After the break, Penn came out swinging once more, holding the Crimson scoreless for nearly three minutes while tacking on seven points to extend its lead into double digits, 40-28. The lead peaked at the 2:23 mark in the third quarter off of Penn senior guard Mia Lakstigala’s three pointer, which gave Penn a 47-34 advantage. Harvard’s top scorer, Turner, was held scoreless until this point, but with her team in a deep hole late in the contest, the highly touted first-year erupted with back to back field goals. Mullaney added in a three-pointer to end the quarter on a 8-2 run for the Crimson and cut the deficit to 49-42.
Harvard continued its newfound success, embarking on a 15-6 run to begin the final quarter and took its first lead of the game 57-55. Coach Delaney-Smith explained the blueprint for her team’s comeback was her team’s persistent attack in transition, which led to fatigue for the thin-rostered Quakers. Once Harvard took the lead, it never looked back, outscoring Penn 28-14 in the final stanza to reach the final score of 70-63.
“Our philosophy as a staff is to convey confidence and that we believe in [the team],”Coach Delaney-Smith said. “But, truth be told, that is something they did for themselves, and we could see it in their faces and in their eyes. They kept telling each other we’re going to win this game.”
With its sensational comeback victory, Harvard extended its win streak to three games and retained an outright hold on the fourth and final spot in the Ivy League Tournament bracket. The Crimson will return home to host conference rivals Brown and Yale next weekend Feb. 4-5.
— Staff writer Oscar E. Mercado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.