Ivy League Women’s Tournament semifinal preview – No. 3 Harvard vs. No. 2 Penn

No. 3 Harvard (16-11, 9-5 Ivy) vs. No. 2 Penn (22-5, 12-2) Sat., 8:30 p.m. (estimated) ESPN3

Season Series – Split 1-1
2/16/19 at Harvard; Harvard wins 80-72 2OT
3/1/19 at Penn; Penn wins 75-70

Penn: won four in a row and 13 of its last 15
Harvard: won two in a row and five of its last seven

Penn (conference stats)
Eleah Parker (First Team All-Ivy; Ivy Player of the Year): 16.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 3.1 blocks
Princess Aghayere (Second Team All-Ivy): 14.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Ashley Russell (Second Team All-Ivy): 9.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.8 steals
Phoebe Sterba: 10.8 points, 2.9 made threes, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists

Harvard (conference stats)
Katie Benzan (First Team All-Ivy): 13.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Madeline Raster (Second Team All-Ivy): 13.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Jadyn Bush: 11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds
Jeannie Boehm: 9.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.0 blocks

Frontcourt depth

Penn’s strength starts in its front court.  Eleah Parker, the 2018 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection in 2019, is tops in the conference and top five in the nation in total blocks, as well as being second in the league and top 75, nationally, in rebounding. On the offensive side, she finished Ivy play fourth in scoring, third in field goal percentage. Princess Aghayere moved into the starting lineup and became one of the Ivy League’s most improved players. Last season, she averaged 4.3 points and 4.1 rebounds over 13.8 minutes per game and this year’s totals increased to 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds in 27.1 minutes a contest.  Penn’s starting bigs each average over 30 minutes a game, so the team doesn’t often rely on frontcourt depth.  If there is any foul trouble, the team will have to lean on Tori Crawford, who had 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 points in league play, and Emily Anderson, who averaged 1.5 rebounds and 1.4 in league play.

Harvard’s frontcourt may not have garnered the same amount of postseason awards, as the Quakers, but it’s a very strong group and actually deeper than Penn’s.  Jeannie Boehm has been one of the best and most consistent frontcourt players in the Ivy League in her three years.  In league play, she was third in blocks, fifth in rebounding and 11th in field goal percentage, while averaging just under 10 points per game.  Jadyn Bush had a solid rookie campaign, coming off the bench to contribute 5.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists a game. This year, she moved to the starting lineup and ended her sophomore Ivy season fifteenth in scoring (11.0), second in field goal percentage (52.0 percent), and third in rebounds (8.6) but she made a huge jump in her sophomore season.  In her first year at Harvard, Rachel Levy was limited to only six games.  This year, she played in 27 contests, averaging 5.6 points and 4.2 rebounds over 16.1 minutes.

The starting bigs battled to a draw in the two contests this season.  Levy, who hit a layup, a midrange jumper and drew an important foul in the second overtime of these teams’ first meeting, showed that she is capable of being a late-game difference maker.

Backcourt play and outside shooting

While Penn’s calling card has been its frontcourt play over the last few years, the Crimson are generally known for their backcourt play. Katie Benzan, a three time first team All-Ivy, continues to be one of the nation’s best three point shooters.  While she may not have shot the 39.2 percent of her first year or the 45.0 percent in her second year, she still shot 35.7 percent this year.  In league action, she averaged 13.9 points per game with a league-leading 3.1 threes per contest.  She also was top five in the league with 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.  Madeline Raster, like Boehm, is a model of positive consistency.  This year, she was a match with Benzan, as she was top 15 in scoring and top 5 in three point shooting, while using her strength and determination to finish in the top 15 in rebounding.  Sydney Skinner was arguably the Ivy League’s Sixth Person of the Year in 2018 (if such an award existed), and often was on the court at crunch time.  This year, she started the first 19 games, but she and the team realized her value as a super-sub with her all-important 8.3 points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 made threes a game.

The Quakers backcourt, while not as dominant as the frontcourt, is still a solid unit.  Ashley Russell plays the point and is a tenacious defender, who ended up second in steals and 11th in rebounding.  She can also help out on the other side of the ball, as she finished second in assists during league play and averaging just under 10 points a night.  While Penn is not known as a three point shooting team, Phoebe Sterba has the skills to keep the other three Ivy Madness opponents honest.  In conference play, she led the league with a 39.2 percent success rate and was second in made threes, as well as threes per game.  Sophomore Michae Jones, who averaged 2.8 minutes per game last year, comes off the bench to give the Red & Blue 4.9 points and 16 minutes.

In a game between two teams that have played two incredibly close games, it may come down to role players and three-point shooting.  The Crimson have the senior co-captain, who was able to knock down 12 points in overtime against Penn at the Palestra, while the Quakers will counter with the young guard who was able to get 11 in that same extra session.

In its home win in February, Harvard went 10-for-33 (30 percent) and Penn only managed 2-for-19 (11 percent).  In Penn’s win in March, the Crimson went 11-for-32 (34 percent), but the Quakers kept pace with a 7-for-22 (32 percent) effort.  Last year’s Ivy semifinal between these two teams, which was played at the same late hour, saw Penn hit seven of 22 (32 percent) while Harvard went 8-for-33 (24 percent) with Benzan, Raster, and Skinner going a combined 7-for-30.  Harvard will need to forget its 2018 effort and build upon its 2019 games if it wants to make it to its first Ivy Tournament final.

Free throws

The Crimson shoot 70.1 percent from the line for the season and 71 percent in the conference season.  The Quakers, meanwhile, are the weakest free throw shooting team in the Ivy League and one of the lowest in the nation.  At 64.1 percent overall and 67.2 percent in league play, Penn may find itself at the line often as the game progresses.  Fortunately for Penn, its two best games of the year occurred against Harvard: 20 of 28 (71 percent) in game one and 22 of 29 (76 percent) in game two. Penn will need to repeat this success if it hopes to capture its second Ivy Madness title.

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