Women’s basketball (11-5) looks to affirm its status as title contenders this weekend when the squad faces Harvard (9-6), the 2007 and 2008 Ivy League champions, and Dartmouth (6-9), last year’s winner.
To displace these two perennial powers, Columbia will need big games from its forward Judie Lomax when she faces off against Harvard’s forward, Emma Markley, and last year’s Player of the Year, forward Brittney Smith from Dartmouth.
Harvard junior Markley, who is averaging 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and Dartmouth junior Smith, averaging 11.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, have provided the inside presence to anchor their teams for the past few years. Those gaudy numbers may be made irrelevant, though, as Columbia’s Lomax has dominated her opposition thus far, most recently posting a 30-point 17-rebound effort against Cornell in which she outscored the entire Big Red team in the first half.
That game, which Columbia won 68-47, marked the first time the Lions have started conference play 2-0 under head coach Paul Nixon’s tenure. The Lions exhibited terrific defensive pressure in that game, with defensive stalwart Kathleen Barry and last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Sara Yee hounding Cornell’s star point guard Lauren Benson into a two-assist, four-turnover performance.
The Light Blue also got back on track with its outside shooting, regularly knocking down shots after struggling in its first game versus the Big Red. In particular, sophomore Melissa Shafer, who leads the league in 3-point field goal percentage, thrived in the past game, knocking down four of five 3-pointers.
Close behind Shafer in 3-point percentage is Harvard guard Brogan Berry, last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Berry has been superb for Harvard, averaging 13.4 points per game (on 40 percent 3-point shooting) and a league-leading 6.1 assists per game. Columbia’s Barry will likely have the tough assignment of guarding her, and that matchup could determine who wins the Light Blue-Crimson game.
In Harvard’s past two games versus No. 13 Florida State and rival Dartmouth, Berry struggled en route to 96-52 and 45-44 losses. She excelled versus NJIT though, contributing 15 points and eight assists in a 69-53 win. Her play is vital to Harvard’s offense, and limiting her is essential in order to achieve a Light Blue victory.
The next day, Columbia will face off against Dartmouth. At first glance, Dartmouth may appear to be struggling due to its spotty 6-9 record. Its lack of wins is deceptive though, as it arguably had the most challenging nonconference schedule of all the Ancient Eight teams. Last year’s champions also had to adjust to playing without all-Ivy forwards Darcy Rose and Koren Schram, who have now graduated. The two played a large role in the Big Green’s 63-61 triumph over the Light Blue last season, in which they both scored 17 points.
Dartmouth has performed better in recent weeks, defeating Harvard 45-44 in its conference opener and surviving against New Hampshire 49-48. Brittney Smith was huge versus New Hampshire, securing a double-double with a 14-point, 16-rebound effort.
Despite the attention Smith receives, other Dartmouth players have yet to step up this season, with the aforementioned Smith being the only Big Green player averaging more than eight points a game. This lack of balance has contributed to the Big Green averaging just 49.6 points per game, which is second to last in the Ivy League. Although the Big Green somewhat makes up for this with its third-ranked defense, its lack of options beside Smith demonstrates a weakness the Lions might be able to exploit.
These next two games are essential if the Light Blue hopes to contend for the Ivy League title, and the results will be an indicator of how much the team has improved from last year. Columbia first plays at Harvard on Friday and then travels to play Dartmouth on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. in both matchups.