No. 16 Harvard over No. 1 Stanford still resonates 10 years later
STANFORD, Calif. -- Whether it's in a bar, a job interview, or just walking down the street, the reaction is similar for members of the 1998 Harvard women's basketball team. Just the mention of being a former Crimson basketball player inevitably leads to this question: "Were you on THAT team?"
As many fans filling out their tournament brackets this week know, a No. 16 seed just doesn't have much of a chance at beating a No. 1.
That matchup has happened 148 times in either the men's or women's tournament, and the 1998 Harvard team remains the only one to pull that most improbable feat, beating Stanford 71-67 at Maples Pavilion in a game that still resonates for members of both teams 10 years later.
"It's almost comical how often it comes up given that it was 10 years ago," said Suzie Miller, who hit the shot that put the Crimson up for good with less than 2 minutes left in the game. "I interviewed at Stanford for a job in emergency medicine a few years ago. Out of nowhere, in one of my interviews someone said, 'Do you really think we'll accept you after what you did to Stanford in 1998?' I thought this is crazy. This is emergency medicine. Of course he was joking and they accepted me."
The ribbing continued whenever Miller wore a Harvard women's basketball T-shirt during pickup games during her time at Stanford. Teammate Alison Seanor says the game comes up whenever she mentions she played at Harvard, even in a New York City bar.
Seanor and Miller both joke that some of their teammates from earlier years are prone to fibbing and saying they too were on that famous team.
The memories from that game are still vivid for the players, from the chants on the bench, the flashcards coach Kathy Delaney-Smith showed to call out plays because the gym was so loud, to the feeling they had looking up at the final score as they celebrated.
That's not quite the case on the other side.
"I don't even remember it," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I never watched it. I never thought about it. I really kind of blanked it out. Quite a defense mechanism."
The difference between the teams was much smaller than usual for a No. 1 and a 16 seed. Stanford lost two key players to injuries leading up to the game, while Harvard came in with a 22-4 record, two years of tournament experience and the nation's leading scorer in Allison Feaster.
The Crimson were expecting a better seed that year, and used the slight as motivation.
"I'm sure we garnered some determination from the lack of respect," said Delaney-Smith, who still has mementos from the game all over her office. "No one thought Harvard would beat Stanford. No one thinks Harvard would beat anyone. That's not an unusual thing."
The Cardinal have not been a No. 1 seed since then and haven't been back to the Final Four either, losing two other tournament games on their home floor, including last year to Florida State.
Stanford had no such drought going into the Harvard game. The Cardinal had been to six Final Fours and won two national championships the previous eight seasons, losing by one point in overtime in the semifinals to Old Dominion in 1997.
But instead of coming into the Harvard game with confidence, they were feeling the hurt from season-ending knee injuries to stars Vanessa Nygaard and Kristin Folkl the previous week.
"The hard thing was just the injuries," VanDerveer said. "The game itself to me wasn't a really sad thing. The sad thing happened during the week when we had two kids go down from ACL injuries. It was absolutely depressing."
Nygaard crumpled to the floor with a non-contact injury in the second half of the regular season finale at Oregon State. Because the extent of the injury wasn't immediately known, the Cardinal still got a No. 1 seed.
Five minutes into Stanford's next practice, Folkl, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, went down with another ACL tear.
"There was absolute silence in the gym except the sobbing," VanDerveer said. "At that point, the players on the team didn't want to play. A lot of players with careers were afraid that would happen to them."
The Cardinal fell behind quickly and trailed by 10 points early in the second half. But they rallied and took a 65-62 lead with less than 3 minutes remaining.
Feaster, who finished with 35 points and 13 rebounds, hit a layup to cut it to one. Miller followed with an off-balance 15-footer that she describes as a "chuck" and a 3-pointer from her least favorite spot on the floor that iced the game.
"That's my worst shot," Miller said. "I hated that shot from the corner pocket. I guess it was just meant to be that night."
Seanor watched a tape of the game for the first time last year and was shocked to find out how close it actually was.
"I was kind of nervous watching it even though I knew the outcome," she said. "On the court I never doubted we were going to win it. I know that sounds really cocky. Now I think back and say, 'Wow, we were really confident."
The sting from the loss can't escape former Stanford guard Milena Flores, who has spent the past few years as an assistant coach in the Ivy League at Yale and now Princeton.
Like many of her teammates that day, Flores struggled from the field, making only one of six shots. The Cardinal shot just 33 percent as a team that game.
"I always think about whenever we go to their home gym because it has a display case honoring the game. It's kind of hard to ignore it," she said. "With as many games as there are, the odds are it would happen again. I wish it would. Not for that No. 1 seed but for me in a selfish way."
For the Harvard players the feeling is different. While they are willing to make room for another team when necessary, they are still savoring their place in history.
"Obviously we're in a very special club of which we're the only member," Seanor said. "Sometimes that's not such a good thing being in a club in which no one else is a member. But this is pretty special. I'd be happy for a team to do it but there is a little bit of something deep down that's special about being the only one."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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