After cruising past Dartmouth (1-16, 0-5 Ivy League) earlier in the week 96-62, Harvard women’s basketball (9-9, 3-3) turned in yet another dominant performance last Saturday over conference foe Cornell Big Red (6-10, 1-4), winning the matchup 89-47 under the bright lights of Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson applied early pressure on the defensive end, which generated Big Red turnovers and allowed Harvard to race out to a 22-0 lead. During the initial Crimson onslaught, junior guards McKenzie Forbes and Annie Striztel each recorded stretches of three consecutive baskets from the field. Forbes and Stritzel finished the night with 16 and 12 points, respectively, and they were joined in double figures by junior guard Maggie McCarthy (18), first-year guard Harmoni Turner (14), and senior guard Tess Sussman (10).
When asked what led her team to such an explosive start, including a 31-4 lead at the end of the first quarter, Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith praised her team’s defensive intensity. Although Harvard lacks a true forward in its five-guard starting lineup, she credited her players with being able to converge on Cornell in the paint and quickly recover to guard the three-point line.
“I felt we were focused on reading passing lanes, making them try to get back on their heels and we did that,” Delaney-Smith said. “I think we may have had an all-time high of 19 steals. When you do that, turnovers turn into points [on the offensive end]. That does wonders for your confidence, and we haven't done that in a while. So pretty happy with that.”
The Crimson lead stretched to 81-30 at the end of the third quarter, largely due to Harvard’s impressive shooting from three-point range. As the fourth quarter began, the team had converted 50 percent (14-for-28) of its attempts from deep, and three Crimson starters finished with four makes each (McCarthy, Forbes, Turner). As Delaney-Smith noted, Saturday’s shooting performance is an encouraging sign for a young team trying to find the balance of three-point attempts and points in the paint.
“We are still trying to strike the balance of a young team and a new-to-each-other team [and] striking the balance of threes,” Delaney-Smith explained. “We obviously don't have the traditional inside presence, but we have an ability to get to the basket. If I were to critique my team, we default to the quick three more than I think we should, and it's because I have three, four, even five ‘greenlight’ shooters out there at once. I don't want them to settle for the quick three as often as they do. I do not want that. I would prefer a quick three within the system — which is drive, kick, drive, kick, pass, one more [pass]. Those kinds of things are coming off screens. So it's just striking the balance of a ‘system three’ versus ‘I settled for the quick three.’”
While Harvard has coasted to commanding wins in its last two games, the past five weeks have not been without their challenges. Notably, players being out due to injuries and Covid-19 have made it difficult for the Crimson to establish a consistent rotation.
“Team chemistry has always been outstanding, [but] the rotation is all over the map because of Covid and how many players are either battling Covid or battling an injury,” Delaney-Smith said. “There isn't a normalcy to our rotation at all. It's just whoever gets the call — I'm asking you to step up. I'm trying to get the emphasis and the focus to be on defense and rebounding. And again, we're pretty inconsistent in that regard.”
A thinner Harvard bench in the last month, however, has led to the emergence of less experienced players who have performed well on the court. Delaney-Smith singled out junior guard Sara Park, first-year guard Elena Rodriguez, and sophomore forward Lindsey Lawson as players who have dealt with frustrating time out of the lineup, yet also flashed strong play in their time on the court.
“There are young players like Lindsey Lawson — [Saturday was] her first day back in a long time,” Delaney-Smith smith. “She got a concussion in the Princeton game and has been out ever since. She's a young player, so she's lost a lot of her growth and development, I feel. Her potential is off the charts, [but] she's sort of got to get her legs back. Sarah Park was having an absolutely extraordinary season, [but] has been battling setbacks and then [was] unable to play [in four of the last seven games], and she's now in the rotation.”
Beyond the five-guard starting lineup of Turner, Forbes, Sussman, McCarthy, and sophomore guard Lola Mullaney, as well as rotation players Stritzel and senior forward Maddie Stuhlreyer, Coach Delaney-Smith will be looking for younger players to provide a spark off the bench as the heart of Ivy League play awaits. That crucial portion of the schedule begins this Saturday, January 29th at 2:00 p.m. when the Crimson travel to Philadelphia to face the Penn Quakers (7-9, 2-2).
“I think the key is to stay healthy. And I mean, we can only control what we can control. Who knows where the chips are gonna fall with injuries and Covid. We're just going to deal with it as it comes our way.”
— Staff writer A.J. Dilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.