Women’s basketball splits pair of weekend games, triumphing return to Lavietes Pavilion | Sports
After dropping her season opener with Boston College, the Harvard women’s basketball turned to a pair of weekend competitions to give coach Kathy Delaney-Smith the first win for his 40th and final season at the helm of the Crimson program. Although Harvard lost a hard-contested road game to the University of Massachusetts on Friday 80-71, the Crimson – playing at the Lavietes Pavilion for the first time in 20 months – won dominantly over Northern Illinois (NIU) on Sunday. 70 -53.
HARVARD 71, MASSACHUSETTS 80
Harvard (0-2) started their fight on Friday afternoon with rival Massachusetts State (2-0) boasting of their depth and three-point shooting ability. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Crimson were leading 57-54 and had connected in 10 of 22 three-point attempts. However, a late run from the Minutewomen and Harvard’s colder shot from the depths opened the doors to Massachusetts’ 80-71 victory. Coach Delaney-Smith returned to his starting four-guard roster, led by second-year guard Lola Mullaney, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four three-pointers from the field.
In this back-and-forth affair, Delaney-Smith turned to a pair of newcomers, second-year forward Lindsey Lawson and first-year goaltender Elena Rodriguez, for key minutes on the bench. Junior guard Annie Stritzel made some big contributions as well, but it was junior guard McKenzie Forbes’ season debut off the bench that left a big mark on this game. Forbes, a rookie and All-American transfer from McDonald’s in California to Berkeley, finished his first performance for Crimson with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Although she only shot six of 19 from the field, Forbes’ playing skills and natural ability to score the ball excited Delaney-Smith.
“[Forbes’s] the skill set is undeniable, ”said Delaney-Smith. “She has a fabulous skill set and she has a great IQ on the court. Again, she was one of the [incoming players] that was ruled out and missed some practices that I think would have been very helpful to him. So to be able to come back after being sidelined and make an impact for us in the UMass game [and] in [Sunday’s game] is just a sign from the future, that she is just going to get better and better. I’m looking to bounce her a bit more for us and keep playing the defense she’s capable of which is high IQ defense.
While losing in a road battle was not the outcome Harvard sought to enter on Friday night, the Crimson gained from Amherst a better sense of his rotation and identity as a team.
“We’re very deep and very talented,” said Delaney-Smith. “Unfortunately, just before our opener, we were hit by injuries that sidelined many [Harvard’s newcomers], and that’s a bit of a shame because they’re all newcomers, and the offensive system is new. We are still working on who we are [and] what is our offensive identity.
“We wasted a lot of precious time playing together and just connecting with each other,” continued Delaney-Smith. “They’re all back now, but they haven’t practiced. So it was great to see them able to connect without a lot of training under their belt, and I think that connection is just going to get stronger and stronger.
HARVARD 70, NORTH OF ILLINOIS 53
Playing under the lights of the Lavietes Pavilion for the first time since Feb. 29, 2020, the Crimson (1-2) put on an utterly impressive performance against the Northern Illinois Huskies (1-1) to win, 70-53 .
The first-half story was Harvard’s defensive length that blocked the Huskies’ offense leading to ineffective shots (northern Illinois shot six of 29 before half-time) , turnovers and quick break opportunities for the Crimson offense.
“We were not without error [on the defensive end], which we will never be, ”said Delaney-Smith. “But I think a lot of my team got attached to the defensive scout, with some breakdowns in the fourth quarter. [Our] the length bothered their leader. […] Starting with [first-year guard] Harmoni Turner, everyone who turned to her did a great job. I am quite satisfied with our defensive effort.
After a promising start to the season on Friday, junior guard McKenzie Forbes made his first start in a Crimson uniform in Sunday’s competition. Coach Delaney-Smith teamed up Forbes alongside four other guards – Turner, sophomore Lola Mullaney, junior Maggie McCarthy and senior captain Tess Sussman – to form an athletic and quick start lineup. After Harvard took a 13-point halftime lead, Forbes recorded nine straight points to start the second half and keep Crimson’s double-digit advantage.
“I think [the lineup of Forbes, Turner, Mullaney, McCarthy, and Sussman] all can shoot at all three, and many of them can attack at all three levels. This number 25 for northern Illinois [A’Jah Davis] is generally much more of an indoor presence. I think we just played the defense that I wanted and maybe took [Davis] on his heels a little earlier and got him in trouble. It really helped us. There is not a real five players [in this lineup], and we’re very small, but I love our teamwork, and I love that we deal, for the most part, with the big ones in the paint. So it’s a work in progress for us to be honest with you.
In addition to Forbes’ solid play, Harvard’s offense was led by McCarthy’s highly efficient 16-point performance on 75 percent of shots on goal, including four of his five three-pointers. The Massachusetts native offers a stable presence and leadership to an inexperienced Crimson team, as she saw some important minutes in their 2018-19 freshman campaign before becoming an entry into the 2019-20 Harvard team.
“[McCarthy is] our rock. It is our foundation. She has calm and leadership [ability] on the pitch that really helps us connect all of our new and young players. The problem with that is that we don’t put her in the marker positions as much as we want. So I think the intention to get her to score a bit more is something we’re trying to do. It was great to see her finally get more pics than I want her to get.
McCarthy, Forbes and the Crimson return to the field this Friday at 7 p.m. as they travel to Piscataway, NJ, to face Rutgers (3-1).
– Editor-in-Chief AJ Dilts can be contacted at [email protected]