The Harvard women’s basketball team will open its season tomorrow against No. 20 Colorado with something it did not have last year against ranked opponents—confidence.
Last year, the Crimson suffered a series of drubbings at the hands of ranked opponents, including a 24-point loss to Minnesota, 39-point losses to both BC and Rutgers and a 40-point loss at the hands of Vanderbilt.
But now, the defending Ivy League champs—who closed out the 2002-2003 season with a hard-fought 79-69 loss to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament—finally believe that they belong in these games.
“We showed against Kansas State that we can play against the top teams in the country,” junior center Reka Cserny said.
Against the Buffaloes, who advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in last year’s tourney, Harvard should have its hands full as that newly discovered swagger is put to the test at the Subway Classic.
Colorado has already gotten its season off on the right hoof with a victory over Old Dominion and a 67-63 overtime win against No. 15 Notre Dame in last weekend’s WBCA Classic.
With such early season success, the Buffaloes already have a high standard to maintain, while Harvard without such pressure.
“They have a lot to lose,” co-captain Tricia Tubridy said. “We’re really ready to go in and get a win.”
If the Crimson hopes to advance to Sunday’s championship, it will have to contain Colorado’s center, Tera Bjorklund, a physical 6’5” senior who has been named to the watch list of every major player of the year award.
“Bjorklund is a great player,” Tubridy said.
It will be Cserny’s task to guard Bjorklund, a job both she and her teammates think is manageable.
“Reka is one of the smartest defensive players in the country,” Tubridy said.
“We have watched a lot of film,” Cserny added. “I think she’s a lot like Nicole Ohlde from Kansas State and I have played against her twice. I feel like I know her moves.”
To help the team prepare, Harvard scrimmaged against players on the men’s scout team during this week’s practice.
In order to hang with the mighty Buffs, the Crimson will need to step up its team defense—an area that was suspect in its exhibition game against UCCB Herzogenburg and has been deficient in the past.
“If we don’t play team defense against Colorado, we won’t win,” Tubridy said. “[Coach] Kathy [Delaney-Smith] has really been stressing it in practice.”
“We had a lot of breakdowns on team defense last year,” Cserny added. “The game against Colorado will be different from those games last year.”
This weekend is also a homecoming of sorts for co-captain forward Hana Peljto and junior guard Rochelle Bell, who are both from nearby Brooklyn Park. Delaney-Smith intentionally schedules games near players’ families so that the Crimson can play in front of a few friendly faces.
“It’s going to be really exciting,” Bell said. “There are going to be lots of friends and family come to watch.”
Bell, the returning starting two-guard, has been sidelined thus far this year due to a leg injury, but hopes to see action this weekend.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to play, and more importantly, hopefully we’ll be able to win,” Bell said.
In the other half of the draw, the host Golden Gophers, ranked No. 13, will square off against Southern at 2 p.m. tomorrow.