Columbia women win fifth straight, make big push toward Ivy Madness

Columbia rode its stingy second half defense, Abbey Hsu’s hot fourth quarter shooting and its deep bench to beat Harvard, 62-57, notching its fifth straight win and moving within a game of its first-ever birth in the Ivy Tournament.

Harvard (14-10, 5-6 Ivy) entered Friday night’s contest on a three-game losing streak, including an 89-64 defeat at Columbia (16-8, 7-4) two weeks ago. The Crimson hoped a return to Lavietes Pavilion, where the team was 8-2 on the season, would help turn the tide and return team back to the league’s upper division.

Following a 13-13 stalemate in the first quarter, things looked good for Harvard as first-year star Lola Mullaney hit two three-pointers and a layup over the first 2:30 of the second quarter to give her team an eight-point advantage.  The Crimson stretched its lead to a 10-point high, but the Lions were able to cut it down to 34-27 at halftime thanks to a late seven point outburst by Hannah Pratt.

With Harvard leading 37-27 a minute into the third quarter, Columbia jumped on a 9-0 run, punctuated by a Janiya Clemmons-to-Carly Rivera fast break layup to take its first lead of the game, 39-37, with 3:40 left in the frame. Senior Jeannie Boehm would finish the quarter with two scoop layups to give the home team a 43-42 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

After a Maddie Stuhlreyer left baseline jumper on the Crimson’s first possession widened the lead to three, it was Abbey Hsu’s time to shine.

Hsu struggled to the tune of two points on 1-for-8 shooting through the game’s first 31 minutes, but recovered a loose ball at the baseline and finished a coast-to-coast layup to get things rolling.

A minute later, Hsu would get fouled behind the three-point line and make two of three free throws to give the Lions a 46-45 lead.  Following two Mullaney free throws, Hsu hit a backdoor layup off a pass from Sienna Durr to back on top.

Durr would follow with a short jumper in the paint to increase the Lions’ lead to three at the five minute mark.  On the next possession, she appeared to injure her right leg as she battled Rachel Levy under the boards.

As the reining Ivy League Rookie of the Year struggled to go up and down the court, Mullaney hit an equalizing three at the 3:30 minute mark. Durr, who appeared to be trying to get the referees to call timeout, finally fell to the ground forcing the officials’ hands.

Durr sat at the end of the bench and would not return to action.

While the Lions’ second leading scorer was on the bench, Hsu continued her dominant quarter by hitting back-to-back threes from the right elbow to give Columbia a 56-50 lead with just over two minutes left in regulation.

Harvard twice cut the deficit to three, but Riviera hit four of six three throws to make it a five-point game with 18 seconds left.

On the next possession, Maggie McCarthy took the ball at the left elbow and drove past Hsu for a layup, making it a 58-55 game with 10 seconds on the clock.  Pratt quickly got the inbounds pass into Rivera before the Crimson could set its defense.  Rivera got the ball to an open Clemmons who put the game away with an uncontested layup.

The high-flying Lions were forced into a half-court match by the strong Harvard defense, resulting in 38% shooting and four free throw attempts in the first half.  Megan Griffith’s squad finally figured things out in the fourth quarter, when they shot 46% and got to the line 11 times.

Defensively, the Lions were able to match Harvard with 38 rebounds, while limiting the Crimson to 34% shooting, including 27% (9-for-33) from three, and 8 free throw attempts.  In the all-important fourth quarter, the Lions tightened things up, holding Harvard to 31% shooting, with only 14% (1-for-7) from beyond the arc.

Hsu finished with 14 points, 12 alone in the decisive final frame.  Rivera, another rookie in the young Columbia team, added eight points and a game-high seven assists.  Pratt came off the bench to score a team-high and career-high 17 points.  The sophomore forward led the way for Columbia’s reserves, who outscored Harvard’s bench by a 23-2 margin.

Mullaney totaled a game-high 20 points in the losing effort, while Tess Sussman scored 17 points on the strength of a 4-for-6 effort from three.  McCarthy had a big night with 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but she could only manage 1-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Columbia’s victory was the first at Harvard since 2009 and finishes off a first-ever sweep of Kathy Delaney-Smith’s perennial Ivy power. The Light Blue’s five-game winning streak is also the longest in program history.

The one downside in an otherwise great evening for the Lions is the health of Sienna Durr.  According to Columbia Athletics, Durr suffered a lower right limb injury and her status for tomorrow night’s game at Dartmouth is unclear.

Columbia now finds itself tied with Penn and Yale at 7-4, after the Bulldogs defeated the Quakers 71-54 at the Palestra.  If the Lions can defeat the 3-8 Big Green on Saturday, the team will punch a ticket back to Lavietes Pavilion on March 13.

Harvard, which finds itself mired in a four-game losing streak and two games out of fourth place, has a much more difficult path to return to Ivy Madness.  If the Crimson cannot find a way to turn their fortunes around, they will find themselves as the second straight host team to miss out on Ivy Madness.





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