vs. (3) Harvard
3/10/2023 | 7:00 p.m.
Mar. 10 (Fri) / 7:00 p.m.
vs. (3) Harvard
By: Matt Sugam (contributor for GoColumbiaLions.com)
NEW YORK — For the first time in the program’s 37-year history, the Columbia women’s basketball team can call themselves Ivy League Champions.
The Lions did it in dramatic fashion, rallying from 12 points down in the second half to earn a 69-64 overtime victory over Cornell Saturday afternoon on Schiller Court at Levien Gymnasium. Columbia (23-4, 12-2 Ivy) will be either the No. 1 or 2 seed at next weekend’s Ivy League Tournament (March 10-11). The Lions tied for first place in the regular season with Princeton (12-2 Ivy). The tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed will be the NCAA NET rankings that are published on Sunday.
Abbey Hsu led four players in double figures with 16 points in a game that featured 17 lead changes before cutting down the net and raising the championship hardware at midcourt.
“Nothing’s going to be given to you. I tell our players that all of the time. Life is just never that easy and if it is that easy, it’s coming for you later,” head coach Megan Griffith ’07CC said “Cornell came out with a mission. They could have ruined our season.”
A sold-out crowd of 2,602 packed into the Levien Gymnasium early to witness what they anticipated to be a monumental day. With standing room only atop the bleachers, it was as if the entire Columbia community tried to jam itself into the bandbox gym on 120th and Broadway on the first Saturday of March.
They’d have to wait about 2 hours and 15 minutes, watching a game play out in a dramatic, anxiety-provoking fashion.
Ultimately, the Lions triumphed.
𝐓𝐇𝐀𝐓 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐌𝐏𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐒𝐇𝐈𝐏 𝐌𝐎𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐓Relive the final moments of the Lions’ first @IvyLeague Championship!#RoarLionRoar pic.twitter.com/phzD32JDaN— Columbia Women’s Basketball (@CULionsWBB) March 4, 2023
“We started from the bottom and now we’re here,” senior Lilian Kennedy jokingly said in her postgame press conference. “I remember trying to recruit people to come to the gym, come to our games, and try to fill the gym up. It’s insane. It is insane the difference that has been since my freshman year to now we’re selling out games. It’s insane to see how much our community really supports us and I know for a fact we have the best fans in the Ivy League and it shows every night and every time we get the opportunity to step on our home court.”
Cornell (10-17, 3-11 Ivy) came out looking to play spoiler to its intrastate rivals, scoring the game’s first bucket. It was a back-and-forth first quarter, where the Big Red led 11-8 midway through the quarter. Columbia would trail 21-12 after the first quarter after Cornell shot 64% from the field.
Trailing 25-15 in the second quarter, Jaida Patrick nailed a three-pointer from the left wing to get the crowd, and the Lions back into the game with 6:06 left in the half. She’d make a layup just over a minute later to cut the deficit to 25-20. A pair of free throws from Abbey Hsu and Patrick cut it to 27-24.
At halftime, Columbia trailed 31-24.
After cooling off in the second quarter, Cornell came out hot and took a 39-27 lead with 6:50 to go in the third. From there, the Lions would chip away at the dozen-point lead.
Carly Rivera hit a 3-pointer at the top of the arc to make it 39-31 and get the crowd back into it. Kaitlyn Davis found Paige Lauder for an old-fashioned 3-point play to make it 41-37 with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
Lauder, who had nine points, hit a 3-pointer from the left arc off a pass from Patrick, before Patrick found Sienna Durr on the ensuing possession to give Columbia the 44-43 lead with 1:01 left in the third quarter. It was the first Columbia lead since the 7:10 mar of the first quarter when the Lions were up 6-5 and had only held the lead for 31 seconds of the game.
“That just shows the fight that this team has,” Kennedy, a team captain, said. “We never gave up, we never quit. And we knew that we just needed to rely on each other, have each other’s backs, and get the W and we got the job done today.”
While Cornell would answer, Kitty Henderson’s pair of free throws put Columbia up 46-45 heading into the final quarter. Henderson finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and two blocks.
Knotted up at 47, Cornell briefly took a 49-47 lead before Davis converted the old-fashioned 3-point play to put Columbia up 50-49 with 6:16 to go. The teams would go back and forth trading leads down the stretch before the Lions took control on a 3-pointer from Hsu to make it 61-57 with 1:33 to go.
LIONS IN FRONT! 🖥 @ESPNPlus👀 https://t.co/cE2HirxboA📊 https://t.co/wnwkMttzKJ#RoarLionRoar #EDGE pic.twitter.com/2IofkunELY— Columbia Women’s Basketball (@CULionsWBB) March 4, 2023
But Cornell would score four unanswered to tie it at 61 with 6.6 left. With Columbia unable to get a good shot off, the teams would need five more minutes to settle things in overtime.
Columbia jumped out to a 64-61 lead in the extra period, thanks to a Hsu jumper and Patrick’s free throw. The Lions never gave up that lead. When Carly Rivera drove to the basket to find a cutting Patrick to give Columbia the 69-64 lead with 11.3 left, the crowd erupted, knowing the post-game celebration that was about to ensue.
“It was very surreal,” Patrick said. “It was really special to be celebrating with such a tight-knit group and a group that we all care so much about each other and I’m really excited we were able to do this and it was a great moment for us.”
The day began by honoring the most illustrious senior class in program history. The graduating class of Madison Hardy, Davis, Patrick, Hannah Pratt, Rivera, Durr, and Kennedy. The group helped lay the groundwork for the seventh-year coach to make an Ivy League Title at Columbia a reality.
“It definitely has not been an easy ride. Coach G and I, we didn’t have any handouts,” Kennedy said. “But what we all knew was to work hard and stay together. And we just knew that we had to stick together as a team and make sure that no matter what we knew that we had an end goal and take this team to new heights.”
Led by Griffith, the team has done just that.
The former all-time great point guard came home to rebuild a downtrodden program. Fittingly, the win for the school’s first Ivy League title tied her with Nancy Kalafus (1984-1991) with 94 wins.
“Stars have to align at some point,” Griffith said. “It has not been an easy journey here. It took a while to get to this point.”
Of course, the coach would like to notch at least two more wins this season. That would mean the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Columbia heads to Princeton for the Ivy League Tournament next weekend, where the champion is awarded a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Lions will be either the No. 1 or 2 seed of the four-team tournament. Tickets can be purchased here and Friday’s semifinal will air on ESPN+.
“I’m really excited about next week; That challenge and what that brings for us and that opportunity because every time we’ve been given an opportunity our team has truly risen to that occasion,” Griffith said. “I’m excited to execute this week.”
FOLLOW THE LIONS
For the latest on the Columbia women’s basketball, follow @CULionsWBB on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or on the web at GoColumbiaLions.com.
Matt Sugam ’23 SPS has been covering sports in the NY metropolitan area for over a decade. He has spent the last nine years covering college and professional sports as a stringer for the Associated Press and contributing to The New York Times, USA Today Network, NJ.com, and SNY.tv. He’s covering Lions Athletics for gocolumbialions.com while pursuing an M.S. in Strategic Communication at Columbia SPS. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Visit his website at www.mattsugam.com