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Thirolf leads women's basketball to upset of league power Harvard

For 32 consecutive games, the Harvard women's basketball team had been a cut above its Ivy League opponents. Throughout a record-setting conference winning streak, the Crimson didn't just win; it won big – by an average of 21.5 points per game.

Harvard's most lopsided victory of the streak came at Princeton's expense in a 79-34 thrashing Feb. 21, 1997. Saturday, however, in front of a record crowd of 1,135 at Jad-win Gym, the Tigers refused to be intimidated by history.

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Led by sophomore forward Kate Thirolf's 21 points, as well as a key defensive play by sophomore guard Erica Bowman, Princeton (11-8 overall, 5-2 Ivy League) stunned heavily-favored Harvard, 56-53. With the victory, the Tigers pulled to within one game of the Crimson (16-3, 6-1) in conference play and erased the painful memory of their 72-68 loss to Dartmouth the previous evening at Jadwin.

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Princeton's victory, which featured 13 lead changes and eight ties, offset an astonishing performance by Harvard forward Allison Feaster. The nation's leading scorer, averaging nearly 30 points per game, Feaster scored 34 against the Tigers, with 25 coming in the second half. The rest of the Crimson players, however, were ineffective. For the first 10 minutes of the game, as well as the final 9:08, not a single Harvard player besides Feaster scored.

In the end, the Crimson's streak was in the hands of reserve forward Sarah Russell, who had attempted just two three-pointers all season. When Russell's last-ditch attempt bounced off the back of the rim, the Princeton players gathered at midcourt in a wild celebration.

With five minutes remaining in the contest, it appeared as though Feaster's effort was going to be enough to defeat Princeton, as Harvard had just equaled its largest lead of the game at 50-45. Led by Thirolf, however, and unsung sophomore center Leigh Washburn, Princeton slowly regained control of the game.

First, Thirolf found sophomore guard Maggie Langlas under the basket for a layup. Thirolf then buried a jumper to cut Harvard's lead to a single point. After Washburn's blocked shot helped Princeton regain possession, Thirolf drilled a three-point shot to give the Tigers a 52-50 lead with 3:14 to play.

Ineffective in the clutch

Feaster answered for Harvard, scoring while drawing a foul and completing a three-point play. For the final 2:45, however, the Crimson went scoreless.

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Washburn, who equaled her career high with seven rebounds, made a key steal, setting up Thirolf's own three-point play – a bank shot in the lane while being fouled by Feaster – that put Princeton ahead with 1:37 remaining.

During the next minute and a half, each team missed two free throws before a Harvard timeout with 10.9 seconds remaining.

With Princeton still leading 55-53, all eyes in the building were on Feaster, the number one scorer in Ivy League history and arguably the conference's finest player ever. As the Crimson star attempted to drive to the basket, the Tigers' Bowman decided to go for the steal.

It was certainly a gamble. Feaster, an 80 percent foul shooter, had made 13 free throws in a row, with hardly any of them even grazing the rim. If Bowman had fouled her, the game would likely have been tied soon thereafter.

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The move paid off, however, as Bowman knocked the ball cleanly from Feaster's hands into the waiting arms of Thirolf, who was fouled with 3.7 seconds to play. The Princeton sophomore made one out of two foul shots, giving the Tigers a 56-53 lead and setting the stage for Russell's game-tying attempt.

"That's big and it's gutsy," Princeton head coach Liz Feeley said of Bowman's defensive play. "She doesn't back down from anybody."

For Thirolf, the weekend was easily the highlight of her young college career. Against Dartmouth (10-9, 4-3), she made six three-pointers en route to a career-high 26 points. With 6:10 remaining in that contest, the Tigers found themselves trailing, 66-41. Six minutes and 15 Thirolf points later, Princeton trailed by only three following a 27-5 run.

The following evening, against the league's number one team, Tiger fans were treated to a brilliant encore performance, as Thirolf scored her team's final nine points in its upset victory.

Following the game, Thirolf credited Bowman's defensive stand.

"She is someone everyone on this team looks up to," Thirolf said. "Allison Feaster is never going to forget the name Erica Bowman."

She might not forget Kate Thirolf anytime soon, either.

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