After notching three consecutive wins over Ivy League opponents, Harvard women’s basketball returned to Lavietes Pavilion this past weekend in triumphant fashion. On Friday night, the Crimson (12-9, 6-3 Ivy League) earned a hard-fought 77-73 victory over the Brown Bears (5-15, 0-8). The following night, Harvard treated its large home crowd to a 65-59 win over the Yale Bulldogs (13-8, 6-3), extending the Crimson’s winning streak to a season-best five games.
HARVARD 65, YALE 59
Harvard (12-9, 6-3 Ivy League) continued its winning ways after toppling conference rival Yale (13-8, 6-3), evening the season series at 1-1. First-year guard Harmoni Turner was the star of the contest, stuffing the statsheet with 25 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Her running mate, junior guard McKenzie Forbes, contributed 15 points, 8 boards, and 4 steals of her own to help lift the Crimson over the Bulldogs.
“The [team’s] chemistry is getting stronger,” Turner said. “Considering that we are the underdogs, we take that really personally. This is our home court and we wanted to defend [it].”
The first quarter of the pivotal Ivy League matchup proved to be a defensive battle, as Harvard was held scoreless for over three and a half minutes to open the game. The drought ended when Forbes converted an and-one layup to even the score at 3-3. The teams split free throws before Yale junior forward Camilla Emsbo took over, going on a personal 6-0 run, widening the Bulldogs’ lead to 10-4. Sophomore forward Lindsey Lawson converted the final basket of the quarter off of a Turner assist, cutting the deficit to 10-6.
Harvard came out in the second quarter on fire, going on a 13-2 run and holding Yale scoreless for over 5 minutes in the quarter to take its first lead of the game, 19-12. The Bulldogs fought back, reducing the Crimson’s advantage to 21-17. Harvard would have the last word of the quarter once more, as Forbes dropped a dime for senior guard Tess Sussman, who converted the layup. Harvard forced 15 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and held Yale to 7-for-26 shooting, claiming a 23-17 lead at the half.
That advantage quickly evaporated, though. Harvard started the second half shooting 0-5 from the field, allowing Yale to go on an 8-1 run in the first two minutes of the 3rd quarter and go on top, 25-24. That would be the Bulldogs’ last lead of the game, however, as Forbes responded by muscling in a layup through contact and sending Yale’s Emsbo to the bench with three fouls. In the 6’5” forward’s absence, Harvard began attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line, extending its lead to seven before Yale sent their star back out onto the floor.
For Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, the stretches of poor shooting from the Crimson were indicative of an offense that was settling too early rather than keeping their opponents off balance by moving the ball, but she lauded the fast-paced, attacking style that sparked her team’s run in the second half.
“We weren’t running our offenses, so we just decided to run and gun,” Delaney-Smith said. “We did it to tire [Emsbo] out, and it worked.”
What offense Harvard did drum up in the second half largely came from the hands of the electrifying Turner. After the Bulldogs held her to six points in the first two quarters, the first-year got going after the break by drawing fouls (8 of her 25 points came from the charity stripe) and creating shots for herself in the midrange and from beyond the arc.
Turner’s performance, which matched her career high in points, was another positive chapter in a rookie season that already has Delaney-Smith describing her leading scorer as a “superstar.” The Texas native also led the team in assists (including a nifty no-look pass to junior guard Maggie McCarthy in the corner to close out the third quarter), evidence of the growth that Turner has exhibited all year long.
This growth has lifted up all members of the young team, and is a big part of the Crimson’s five-game winning streak that clearly has Harvard’s players enjoying themselves on the court. On Saturday, the squad exhibited confidence, smiling and laughing with each other deep into the fourth quarter and always seeming to have the game under control, never letting their lead fall below six for the entire fourth quarter.
Yale gave the home crowd a scare with just over a minute to go with a 3-pointer that brought the game within two possessions, but Turner came right back down and hit a dagger from NBA range to effectively seal the Bulldogs’ fate.
Entering the home stretch of the Ivy League season, Delaney-Smith praised Harvard’s defensive effort against their rivals. A night after being frustrated by inconsistent play on the defensive end, the 40th-year head coach was proud of her team for rising to meet a difficult assignment as an undersized team playing against bigs like Emsbo.
“The whole premise of what we were trying to do was not to be beat on the drive, because we have to double down [on their bigs] and scramble up,” she said. “And we were almost 100% effective at it. I couldn't ask us to do it any better than we did.”
The Crimson will hope to keep its defensive momentum going as they look ahead to the Ivy League tournament, which Harvard will host at Lavietes Pavilion on March 11-12. Conference leaders Princeton and Columbia have been formidable all season, but Delaney-Smith has seen enough to not put limits on her group’s potential.
“Having the tournament here is motivation to dig deep and make it,” Delaney-Smith said. “Then, anything can happen.”
HARVARD 77, BROWN 73
Harvard began Friday night’s matchup with Brown looking to replicate its convincing 89-58 road win against the Bears on Jan. 7. Although the Crimson raced out to a 21-9 lead through the middle of the first quarter, Brown’s two-three zone defense and Harvard’s shooting struggles from the perimeter produced a tight first quarter, with the Crimson holding a 24-19 lead.
Delaney-Smith noted that with Harvard now facing its conference opponents for the second time in the season, adjustments from both sides can lead to much different outcomes than the first matchup.
“I think the first game [against Brown] was an enigma,” Delaney-Smith said. “Half their team was missing, so the first game was not indicative [of their play] at all, and we crushed them in the first game. That's always a bad omen. I tried to warn everybody that wasn't the Brown team we're going to see tonight, and it wasn't. They were far better tonight.”
Central to Harvard’s early lead was Turner, who recorded eight of the team’s first 14 points and continually pushed the pace to generate open shots for her teammates. Turner leads Harvard in scoring at 15.5 points per game, and her 16-point, 11-rebound performance Friday against Brown represented another big step in her development at the college level.
“In terms of development, I have definitely trusted the process,” said Turner. “I had a rough start at the beginning of the season, and that was because I did not trust the process, I'm gonna just be brutally honest. But as soon as I started feeding into the system, and trusting my coaches and the team, then I think we definitely capitalized on that.”
After both teams traded baskets in a physical second quarter, the Crimson entered halftime holding onto a 41-36 lead. To energize Harvard’s offense in the second-half, Delaney-Smith placed junior guard McKenzie Forbes in the middle of the Bears’ two-three zone defense. Although Forbes, who averages 13.3 points per game this season, was held scoreless in the first-half, her shooting ability and offensive versatility allowed her to explode for 19 points in the final two quarters. After the game, Turner explained the importance of Forbes for this Harvard team.
“I think we definitely feed off each other very well,” said Turner. “Kenzie [Forbes], she was getting the shots in the beginning of the game, they just weren't falling. I think what made her keep going was her continuous shooting. And us as a team, we all have trust in each other.”
As the game approached the final buzzer, the Crimson grasped a 75-73 lead. Brown’s out-of-bounds play with 1 minute left, however, resulted in a turnover. After a three-point attempt from McCarthy rimmed out, Brown’s Kyla Jones raced up the court for a chance to win the game. Blanketing her on defense was Harvard junior guard Annie Stritzel, who ripped the ball from Jones with 11 seconds remaining. A pair of free throws from Forbes sealed the nail-biting 77-73 victory for the Crimson.
“Annie [Stritzel] is one of our best defenders,” Delaney-Smith said. “She switched on to [Jones], who was driving on us [all game]. And Annie did a great job. She picked her pocket and she forced her right, which is what we were supposed to be doing instead of letting her go left all night long.”
The Crimson will look to continue its string of success when the team returns to Lavietes Pavilion for a matchup with the Penn Quakers this Saturday, Feb. 12 at five p.m.
—Staff writer Nicholas Daley can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Oscar E. Mercado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer A.J. Dilts can be reached at email@example.com.