“It’s Tournament Time”

Harvard women’s basketball prepares for Ivy Madness.

Lola Mullaney, Coach Carrie Moore, and Elena Rodriguez

Clockwise from top left: Lola Mullaney, Coach Carrie Moore, and Elena Rodriguez | PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETICS COMMUNICATIONS; MONTAGE BY HARVARD MAGAZINE

Last Tuesday, with just over three minutes left in the game, the Harvard women’s basketball team was pummeling Dartmouth 71-43, but judging by the Crimson’s aggressive defense, one might have thought the Ivy title was at stake. Delaney-Smith coach Carrie Moore stood pointing and shouting instructions, as her players maintained full-court pressure. Point guard Harmoni Turner ’25 blanketed Big Green guard Leiya Stuart, and when a Dartmouth forward tried passing Stuart the ball, Turner pounced for a steal and glided to the basket for a layup, then immediately turned around and set up the press again.

Updated March 18, 2024, 10:30 a.m.: Harvard lost to Columbia 63-61 and learned on Sunday that the team did not make the NCAA’s Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament (WBIT), a new postseason event. The Crimson are no longer allowed to participate in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament under Ivy League policy, which only permits women’s basketball teams to compete in the NCAA tournament or the WBIT.

The Crimson were defending as if a championship was on the line because in a sense it was. Led by stars like Turner, a first-team all-Ivy honoree, Harvard (16-11 overall, 9-5 Ivy) has the firepower to beat any team in the league. But after a year marred by injuries, the regular season finale against Dartmouth—the Crimson’s third game in five days—represented Harvard’s last opportunity to build continuity before this weekend’s Ivy tournament.

The Crimson are looking to win Ivy Madness and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

THE season began optimistically last November. Harvard returned three all-conference players (Turner and guards Lola Mullaney ’24 and Elena Rodriguez ’25) from a team that reached the 2023 Ivy tournament championship game and the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) quarterfinals, but this season presented new challenges. As Moore explained after the Crimson throttled Quinnipiac 85-41 in their home opener, the Crimson’s “Big Three” (Turner, Mullaney, and Rodriguez) had to play even better than last year. And after losing co-captains McKenzie Forbes ’23 and Maggie McCarthy ’23 to graduation, the remaining stars needed to lead the team’s six underclassmen. “I think they’re really still figuring it out,” Moore said at the time, “whereas I think a lot of us thought that we would just hit the ground running again.”

The Crimson appeared to be coalescing in early December when they led the University of Michigan 28-20 in the second quarter. Then Turner injured her knee, and Harvard lost three of four before blowing out the University of Delaware on New Year’s Eve. Turner returned for the Ivy opener in early January against Yale, a 73-54 win, but the following week, guards Karlee White ’27 (Turner’s backup) and Mary Hollensteiner ’27 (a key reserve) suffered injuries. Before Harvard’s next game, a 72-49 loss to Princeton, Moore joked with the Tigers coach that it felt like she had already coached “three different teams” this season. Now, she says, it feels more like six: for some games, Harvard has had only seven available players; and even some assistant coaches, who fill in during practice scrimmages, have gotten injured. “There’s an adjustment period when you lose certain guys and then you’re playing with a different lineup,” Moore says. “It’s like we’re playing chess.”

Though disruptive, the injuries have created opportunities for other players. Forward Katie Krupa ’26 received an all-Ivy honorable mention and took on a more prominent role after Rodriguez missed four games in February. On defense, Krupa provides valuable shot-blocking; on offense, she blends shooting acumen (she leads the team in three-point and free-throw percentages) with deft post moves and creative shot-making. A case in point: in Harvard’s penultimate regular season game at the University of Pennsylvania, Krupa feinted with the ball behind the three-point line, shook a defender, stepped forward, and sank a one-footed buzzer beater that gave the Crimson a two-point lead at the end of the third quarter. Harvard lost 69-67, but the sequence embodied how the Crimson’s “Big Three” has become a “Big Four.”

The challenge has been getting Harvard’s talent to mesh. On offense, this entails “moving as five on the floor,” as Moore said after a loss in January, rather than “relying on one sole person to get the job done.” This is important because strong defenses can stop an individual, but it is difficult to thwart a synchronized attack by Turner (an electric guard), Mullaney (an elite three-point shooter), and Rodriguez and Krupa (both versatile scorers).

Harvard also needs a stout, cohesive defense, something Moore has prioritized since arriving in Cambridge. This includes coordinating full-court pressure as well as communicating and moving in unison when defending in the half-court. “The best defensive team in this league wins the championship,” Moore said in January. She would know: she’s a former assistant coach at Princeton, six-time defending Ivy champions and the conference’s stingiest defensive squad.

SINCE DEFEATING Dartmouth, Harvard has had more than a week off from games. Coinciding with spring break, this has given the team time to rest, unwind with an intra-squad ping pong competition, and watch basketball. Most importantly, Harvard is preparing for its Ivy Madness semifinal against Columbia. A priority will be containing Ivy Player of the Year Abbey Hsu, a superb three-point shooter. The Crimson will have to contend with a challenging environment because Columbia—which shared the regular season Ivy title with Princeton—is hosting the tournament. Then again, the Crimson have been here before. Literally: after upsetting the Lions in last year’s Ivy Madness semifinals, Harvard lost at Columbia in the 2023 WNIT quarterfinals. This weekend’s matchup will be the teams’ seventh meeting in the last two years. “We all know each other’s plays,” explains Mullaney, who received an all-Ivy honorable mention. “So it comes down to not just running our plays but making plays and making reads.” She adds: “It’s tournament time. It’s March. You have to have those big moments, those big shots.”

Third-seeded Harvard and second-seeded Columbia tip off on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The winner will face top-seeded Princeton or fourth-seeded Pennsylvania in Saturday’s final at 5 p.m.

Read more articles by: David L. Tannenwald
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