PHILADELPHIA, PA. 2/15/2013 – The University of Pennsylvania women’s basketball team ended a 17-game losing streak to the Harvard Crimson behind a career-high 31 points by freshman guard Keiera Ray winning 77 – 72 at the Palestra. It was the first win by the Red and Blue over the Crimson since February 6, 2004 in Cambridge. The last time Penn won against Harvard at the Palestra was February 2, 2001.
This win did not represent the end of a streak. The win showed that Penn has taken another step in their growth process. The Quakers had chances to win against Harvard in the recent past. The Quakers had as excellent chance to beat Virginia earlier this season. Those games slipped away, but this game would not. It was a sign of maturity for a team, and that impressed Penn coach Mike McLaughlin more than winning a basketball game.
“It’s important for the girls as it was the first time we beat Harvard at the Palestra,” said Penn Coach Mike McLaughlin. “That’s what was important. You need to make stepping wins. This is certainly one that will help us.”
Penn showed early that this game was important for the team. A win would not only end the futility against Harvard, it would also show that Penn is ready to take its place in the upper echelon of the Ivy League. The Quakers would play eye to eye with the Crimson in the first half. Trailing 21 – 19 with 7:32 to play in the first half Penn went on a 11 – 1 run over the next four minutes to grab an 8-point advantage. The run was keyed by Ray who scored 8 points in that stretch. Harvard fought back to cut the gap to 34 – 31 at halftime.
In the second half Penn started strong moving out to a 43 – 33 lead in the first three minutes of the half. The Quakers stayed in control. A three-pointer by Ray with 9:07 on the clock gave the Red and Blue their largest lead at 15 points 63 – 48. But the Ray basket was the last points Penn would score over the next six minutes, and the last basket in over seven minutes. Harvard began a furious comeback to get to within 63 – 62 with 3:39 to play. It was during this stretch that Harvard forward Temi Fagbenle, an Olympian for Great Britain, asserted herself scoring 8 points in the 12 – 0 Crimson run. Fagbenle scored a career-high 26 points making 11 of 14 field goal attempts.
“I don’t think we played to hang on, we played to win,” said McLaughlin.
Leading by 65 – 62 after a Ray free throw with 2:29 on the clock, Penn got a steal from senior guard Brianna Bradford to regain possession for the home team. Junior guard Alyssa Baron found sophomore guard Kathleen Roche on the right-wing. Roche buried a critical three-pointer to give Penn a 68 – 62 lead with 1:56 to play. From that point the game would be decided by free throw shooting by Penn. The Red and Blue responded by making 9 of 10 free throws, 7 of 8 by Ray and 2 by Baron. Roche ended the game with 13 points and Baron added 15 and 8 rebounds. A freshman, Ray showed poise at the free throw line.
“We shoot so many free throws at practice, so they were just another free throw,” said Ray. “I just had to breathe, take my time, and shoot the ball.”
“I knew we would have to win it at the foul line, and Keiera has a lot of guts and I knew she was not afraid of the moment,” McLaughlin said.
The horn sounded, and Penn got their fourth Ivy League victory that vaults them into second place in the league. Dartmouth is next who is also 4 – 2 in conference.
“It’s one game at a time,” Ray said about the next challenge. “Today we focused on Harvard, tomorrow we focus on Dartmouth.”
Penn also got a victory after bonding as a team enduring last weekend in New England and Winter Storm Nemo. That trip did have an impact on this week’s game for the Red and Blue.
“We came together knowing we couldn’t do anything.” said Ray about the experience. “We didn’t have a game to play as the Yale game got cancelled. That was the best weekend being able to hang out, relax, and stay focused at the same time,”
Written By: Glenn Papazian