Women’s basketball edges Harvard on thrilling late comeback

by Emily Lu | 1/13/20 2:25am


The Big Green rode strong 3-point shooting to a 63-62 victory over Harvard on Saturday.

by Justin Kramer / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Last-second heroics by Katie Douglas ’22 and Annie McKenna ’20 gave the Big Green a huge boost in its traditional Ivy opener against Harvard University, as the women’s basketball team ran away with a 63-62 victory over the Crimson on Saturday. 

After letting a dominant first-quarter lead slip away, the Big Green trailed by one with 17 seconds on the clock. A crucial defensive stop came when Douglas made a steal and tipped the ball to McKenna, who nailed the winning shot. Dartmouth’s defense hung on to secure the win. 

“What a day for Dartmouth women’s basketball, it’s a great way to start our Ivy League season — fresh beginnings,” said head coach Belle Koclanes. “We took incredible care of the basketball, with 17 assists and only nine turnovers. That’s team play. This is the vision we have for DWB: gritty, a ton of heart, playing with a lot of fire and focus.”

After Harvard’s opening bucket, Elle Louie ’21 answered back with a layup of her own and forced a turnover on the next possession. Defensive efforts quickly kicked in with steals by Paula Lenart ’20 and Louie. The lead continued to switch between the two teams until the Big Green went on a 11-0 run with three consecutive 3s by McKenna and Douglas, as well as an Anna Luce ’21 jumper to end the first quarter 25-15.

“We’ve always talked about our starts and having that energizing start really boosted our confidence,” Douglas said. “We came together as a team just to have that good offense and defense.”

In the second and third quarters, the Crimson began to find their footing and outscored the Big Green 16-9 and 17-14, respectively, to tie the game up at 48-48. While Luce sank back-to-back triples early in the second stanza to extend the Big Green’s lead to 14, the Crimson responded with their own 14-3 run and finished the half a mere three points behind Dartmouth. Harvard snatched the lead in the third quarter with 6:46 left on the clock; despite a trio of trifectas from Douglas, Brown and Jimena Abejon ’22, the third quarter ended with the score even.

Both Douglas and Asha Taylor ’22 recorded threes early in the fourth quarter. With 3:25 on the mark, Harvard extended its lead to 62-58, but could never pull away as Douglas sank another 3-pointer to put the game within one. In the last 21 seconds, the Big Green fouled four times to stop the clock and try to regain possession. Its chance came with a clutch steal by Douglas after deflecting a Harvard pass; the ball landed in McKenna’s hands and she broke away for the game-winning layup. 

“We always try to go for the ball first; [the Harvard player] didn’t see me coming,” Douglas said. “I think I [yelled] a mid-air ‘Annie!,’ dove, and just tipped it to her.”

The last 13.5 seconds of regulation proved tense, as all eyes turned to Dartmouth’s defense to protect the season-opening triumph. Continuing its gritty defensive pressure from the rest of the game, the Big Green effectively prevented Harvard from getting a last-second shot off and maintained the score for a 63-62 win.

“We had a lot of time left, and they weren’t really attacking first, which was great for us,” Lenart said. “The last baseline drive was when [Harvard was] like, ‘Okay let’s score,’ but there was no time left. We were good on rotations, everybody was on a good defensive position so that’s how we got a stop.”

Lenart was critical in keeping Harvard off the board in the last possession, as she helps to lead Dartmouth’s focus on defensive play, especially on rebounding. 

“From day one we talked about the name of this season is going to be defending and rebounding, we’re going to win games thanks to [that],” Koclanes said. “[Lenart is] helping our younger players understand how important rebounding is, and what a vital role she plays for our team — she’s inspiring our younger players.”

Three players posted double-digit points during the Big Green’s first win in its last four games, including Douglas with a career-high five 3-pointers to lead the team with 19. McKenna added 15 of her own along with five assists, and Lenart tallied 10 points. Both teams came in with a 3-point field goal percentage of .296; Dartmouth, however, shot 13-of-24 (.542) from beyond the arc and held the Crimson to 8-of-25 (.320).

A 1-0 record to open conference play is an impressive start for the Big Green, who are coming off a 6-7 record in nonconference matchups and are predicted to finish sixth in the Ivy League. The team hopes to continue its momentum from Saturday into the second game against the Crimson, which will be played on Jan. 25 in Cambridge. The overall goal, of course, is to secure the program’s 18th conference title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. 

“This is just one step towards our ultimate goal,” McKenna said. “We need to take every game one step at a time and just focus on each weekend. Every game is so important for our season so can’t let any game go.”