CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - It was a gut-wrenching ending as the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team held the lead for nearly the entire second half - but that didn't include the final 1.3 seconds - when Harvard hit the game-winning three to defeat the Quakers, 55-52 Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion.
With the game tied at 52-52, Harvard's Christine Matera buried a three with 1.3 seconds left. Penn (1-25, 0-12 Ivy) couldn't have drawn up a better play on the ensuing inbound, getting an open look from 30-feet away as time expired, but it brushed the front of the rim and the Crimson (19-7, 10-2 Ivy) escaped with the win.
Much like the last meeting between these two teams earlier this season, Harvard got off to a hot start. The Crimson made five of their first seven shots (71.4%) against Penn's 2-3 zone. But this time, the Quakers were able to keep up with Harvard in the early going. Penn trailed just 10-9 after junior Jerin Smith manueveured her way in for a lay up with 11:55 remaining.
Having weathered the storm, the Quakers took over. Penn controlled the game for the remainder of the half with a patient and surprisingly effective offense that had entered the contest last in the league in scoring. The Quakers shot 52 percent in the first half, taking the lead for the first time, 14-12, on a lay up from senior Amy Donovan. On the next trip down the floor, sophomore Sara Ely capped a quick 7-3 run to put Penn up 16-12 at the 9:18 mark.
Even when Harvard came back to tie the game at 18-18 and took a brief 21-20 lead, Penn charged ahead again. The Red and Blue went on an 11-4 run, capped by two free throws from sophomore Jourdan Banks to give the Quakers their largest lead at that point, 31-23 with 1:34 left until intermission.
Harvard responded with a three, but senior Sarah Bucar hit a straight-away jumper at the halftime buzzer to give Penn, with 33 points, its highest scoring first half of the season. Meanwhile, a variety of defenses held the league's second-best offense to 26 halftime points.
Penn extended its lead to nine when Harvard scored six straight to pull within 37-34 with 17:34 left, but the Quakers remained poised. Over the next five minutes, they inched the lead back up to seven.
However, it was only a matter of time before the Crimson offense began to click. Harvard scored eight straight and went ahead 45-44 with 9:29 remaining. But, once again, Penn would not back down. The Quakers scored six straight to go up 51-46 at the 6:41 mark. Smith's layup to finish that spree would be Penn's last field goal of the game. Yet they held a 51-50 edge with just 1:20 to go.
Harvard's Emma Markley hit two free throws and the Crimson briefly led before fouling Knapp with 27 seconds left. She missed the first, but quieted an electric atmosphere by swishing the second to tie the game. But the crowd went into a frenzy when Matera hit the winner. Penn's last play was that of Valpo's famous game-winner from the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
Knapp and Donovan led the Quakers with 12 points apiece. It matched a career high for Donovan as she also added two rebounds, two assists and had Penn's only blocked shot. Knapp added a team-high five boards as all nine Quakers that played had at least one rebound. Bucar led the team with five assists in addition to her four points and three rebounds.
Penn finished the game 20-of-44 (45.5%) from the field and had 13 assists. The Quakers had 13 turnovers and forced 16 Harvard turnovers, but the Crimson also shot well, finishing the game at 41.2 percent (21-for-52).
Saturday night, the Quakers are back in action. The Red and Blue head north to Hanover, N.H., for a date with the Big Green of Dartmouth. Tip off is set for 7 p.m.