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February Total: 8
Season Total: 30
PHILADELPHIA - Over the past several years, the University of Pennsylvania women's basketball team had suffered nothing but last-minute heartbreak against Harvard. But Friday was different. Behind a career-high 31 points from freshman Keiera Ray, the Quakers held off a late rally and posted their first win over Harvard in nine years, 77-72, at the Palestra.
Penn (11-9, 4-2) has now won four of its last five Ivy contests and moved into a three-way tie with Harvard and Dartmouth for second-place in the Ivy League. The Quakers snapped a 17-game losing streak to the Crimson dating back to Feb. 6, 2004 and beat Harvard at home for the first time since Feb. 24, 2001.
During that nine-year losing streak to Harvard, Penn had come agonizingly close on several occasions, especially in recent years. Four of the last five matchups had been decided by single digits, including a double overtime thriller in Cambridge in 2011. In most of those matchups, Penn led late in the second half, but each time the lead disappeared before the final buzzer.
It appeared the Quakers were set up for another heartbreak when a 15-point second-half lead was cut to one. The Crimson scored 14 straight points and were within 63-62 with 3:39 to play.
But Penn remained resilient and never relinquished the lead. Ray, in her rookie campaign with the Quakers, has no memory of the those devastating losses to the Crimson. It showed. She sank a pair of free throws - a trend down the stretch - and stopped the Harvard run.
It was enough to spark the Quakers. Following a steal from senior captain Brianna Bradford, sophomore Kathleen Roche buried a three from the wing just in front of the Penn bench. That put Penn up 68-62 with just 1:56 to play.
Harvard (13-7, 4-2 Ivy) made a layup in response, but Ray hit two more free throws. Then Harvard scored again, but junior captain Alyssa Baron, who finished with 15 points, made both free throws to maintain a five-point edge, 72-67, with 39 seconds left.
When Harvard converted a three-point play to close the Penn lead down to two, Ray calmly made two more free throws. And after a defensive rebound, Ray - yet again - made both from the charity stripe. That gave Penn a six-point lead with 21 seconds left and Harvard was never within a single possession again.
Penn clearly held the egde in hustle and intensity from the start. The Quakers fed off an energized crowd of 1,114 and were all over the floor - tipping passes, diving for loose balls and attacking the basket. It gave the QUakers an early lead as junior Courtney Wilson hit a jumper for a 13-10 advantage just seven minutes into the contest.
Harvard bounced back to take a brief 21-19 lead at the 7:32 mark, but Ray drained a three from the top of the key to spark an 11-1 run. Ray had eight points in that stretch and Bradford hit a three for a 30-22 edge.
But the Crimson closed to within three by the half, 34-31.
Harvard scored first in the second stanza, but a 9-0 run put Penn up double digits for the first time, 43-33, at the 17:20 mark.
The visitors closed to within three again, 46-43, with 13:46 remaining, but again the Quakers responded. A quick 8-0 run - a three-point play from sophomore Kara Bonenberger, two free throws from Ray and a three from Roche - had Penn up 54-43.
When Baron hit consecutive buckets, the lead was 60-45 with 9:25 left. And Ray's three a short while later made it 63-48 at the 9:07 mark. But that's when Harvard went on a 14-0 run over the next six minutes and was poised to snatch victory from the Quakers again. But Ray and the Quakers refused to let it happen.
Penn was 26-of-60 (43.3%) for the game, including 8-of-18 (44.4%) from three. Harvard made 28-of-60 (46.7%) from the field and was 7-of-22 (31.8%) from beyond the arc. Penn had 18 assists and just 10 turnovers while forcing 17 Crimson miscues.
Ray was 14-of-20 from the free throw line and 7-of-14 from the field to produce the first 30-point performance for a Quaker since Baron had 30 in a win over Rider on Nov. 19, 2011. She also added seven rebounds in 36 minutes of action.
In addition to her 15 points, Baron had a team-high eight rebounds and six assists. Roche was also in double figures with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-of-5 from three) in addition to three assists and three rebounds. Bonenberger finished with nine points and a game-high two blocks. Wilson added four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. All but one Quaker finished with an assist.
Penn is back in action tomorrow night. Saturday marks Penn's annual Play4Kay game, which raises money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer. Fans are enouraged to buy pink t-shirts at the game ($10) to support the Susan G. Komen Foundation and all ticket sales ($5) will go toward Penn's Rena Rowan Breast Center at the Abramson Cancer Center.