Sports

Tay leads turnaround for Harvard women

Harvard isn't exactly the first school one thinks of when the notion of tradition and championships in women's basketball is discussed.

And this season's edition of the Crimson, with its 15-12 record, probably doesn't send shivers up the spines of players at Duke, Connecticut or Tennessee.

Still, the road that this Harvard team took to reach the NCAA tournament might be one of the most remarkable stories of the field.

At one point, the Crimson was 1-10.

Yet, Harvard turned it around and became the first team to clinch a berth to the field of 64 when it defeated Cornell, 64-48, on March 2, to win the Ivy League title. Such are the rewards when your league does not have a postseason tournament.

Emily Tay (L.A. Marlborough HS) has been at the forefront of the turnaround for the Crimson.

"Our team chemistry is part of our winning," Tay told the Harvard Crimson school newspaper after a 66-51 win over Princeton on Feb. 26 that evened the team's record at 12-12. "We couldn't have pulled it off at the start of the season. It was crazy in the locker room when it was announced we were .500."

Tay, a 5-foot-8 guard, leads the Crimson with a 12.8 scoring average and led the Ivy League this season with 5.2 assists a game.

Harvard opens the NCAA tournament Sunday against defending national champion Maryland at Hartford, Conn.

If it seems to be a hopeless situation, consider the 1998 Harvard team. That group pulled off the biggest upset in tournament history when it defeated Stanford in the first round, the only time a No. 16-seeded team — men or women — has defeated a No. 1.


In all, 17 of the 64 teams in the women's tournament have at least one former local player on its roster. Here is an alphabetical look:

•  Arizona State: Guard-forward Christina Lopez (Santa Ana Mater Dei HS), a 6-0 sophomore, has played in 29 of the Sun Devils' 32 games this season, starting twice, but averaged only 6.9 minutes and 0.5 points. Arizona State (28-4) is seeded third in the Greensboro Regional and will open against UC Riverside on Saturday night at the Galen Center.

•  Baylor: Guard Latara Darrett (Chino native) is the Bears' top three-point shooter by percentage (38.8%) and averages 7.5 points. Darrett, a 5-10 freshman, plays about 20 minutes a game for Baylor (25-7), which takes on Chattanooga in a first-round game Sunday at Raleigh, N.C.

•  Boise State: Four former local standouts helped the Broncos to the Western Athletic Conference regular-season title and a 24-8 overall record. Leading the way is guard Jessica Thompson (Temecula Valley HS). Thompson, a 5-9 sophomore, is the team's leading scorer at 14.1 points a game and even battled a late-season case of mononucleosis, forcing her to sit out three games. Another key contributor is 5-11 sophomore forward Rebecca Kepilino (Huntington Beach Edison HS), who off the bench averages 7.7 points and a team-leading 6.1 rebounds. Jenna Galassi (Anaheim Esperanza HS), a 5-10 sophomore, averages 4.1 points, and Bridgette Reyes (Irvine Woodbridge HS), a 5-6 freshman guard, averages 1.2 points. The Broncos, seeded No. 12, open the tournament Saturday against George Washington at the Galen Center.

•  Brigham Young: Center Lauren Riley (San Clemente HS), a 6-3 junior, averages 7.3 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Cougars, who won the regular-season title in the Mountain West Conference but were upset in the conference tournament. BYU (23-9) earned an at-large bid, is seeded 11th and will play Louisville on Saturday at the Galen Center.

•  Iowa State: The Cyclones finished fourth during the regular season in the Big 12 and lost to Oklahoma in the conference tournament title game. Still, its 25-8 record was enough to earn Iowa State a No. 6 seeding. Guard Lyndsey Medders (Oak Park HS) is the team's leading scorer. The 5-9 senior averages 12.8 points, a team-leading 6.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds. Iowa State opens the tournament Saturday at Minneapolis against Washington.

•  Maryland: Guard Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (Lynwood HS) transferred from Tennessee and became eligible after the fall semester to play in 20 games for the Terrapins (27-5). Wiley-Gatewood comes in off the bench and averages 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists in about 20 minutes a game. Maryland will play Harvard in the first round.

•  New Mexico: Timi E-Nunu (Etiwanda HS) stepped in as a freshman and contributed to the Lobos and their 24-8 record. E-Nunu, a 6-0 forward, averages 19.3 minutes and started 24 of the team's 32 games. She had averages of 2.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. New Mexico, seeded No. 8, will face Wisconsin Green Bay on Sunday at Hartford, Conn.

•  Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish (19-11) finished fifth in the Big East Conference but earned a No. 9 seeding into the tournament. Junior Crystal Erwin (Santa Fe Springs St. Paul HS) started all 30 games this season and was a key inside presence. The 6-2 forward plays about 20 minutes a game and averages 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds. Notre Dame will play California on Sunday at Pittsburgh.

•  Ohio State: Guard Ashlee Trebilcock (Newhall Hart HS), a UCLA transfer, became eligible in December and played in 24 games for the Buckeyes (28-3), seeded No. 4 in the Dayton Regional. Trebilcock averages 5.0 points and shoots a team-leading 52.9% on three-points attempts. Ohio State will play Marist on Saturday at Stanford.

•  Oklahoma: Freshman Abi Olajuwon (L.A. Marlborough HS) played in 16 games for the Sooners (26-4) this season and averages 2.1 points in only 3.8 minutes a game. Olajuwon, a 6-4 center and daughter of former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon, also averages 1.5 rebounds. No. 3-seeded Oklahoma will play Southeast Missouri State in the first round Saturday at Austin, Texas.

•  Oklahoma State: The Cowboys (20-10) earned their first NCAA tournament bid since 1996 and received a solid contribution from center Maria Cordero (Santa Barbara HS). Cordero, a 6-3 center, played in all 30 games, starting nine and averaging 9.9 points and 4.7 rebounds. Oklahoma State, seeded No. 10, will face Bowling Green on Sunday at East Lansing, Mich.

•  Prairie View A&M: The Panthers (19-13) are a longshot as the No. 16-seeded team in the Dallas Regional and will play top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday at Pittsburgh. Still, it's a chance for two former local players. One of Prairie View's top players is junior guard Shavonne Smith (Corona HS), who is the team's second-leading scorer at 14.1 points a game. Smith also averages 3.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Forward Twila Stokes (Inglewood Morningside HS), a 6-0 sophomore, averages 7.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and a team-leading 31.4 minutes a game.

•  Texas Christian: The Horned Frogs (21-10) are the No. 10-seeded team in the Dayton Region and have received a lift this season from junior forward Lorie Butler-Rayford (Inglewood Morningside HS). Butler-Rayford played in 30 games, starting 21 and averaging 7.2 points, a team-leading 7.3 rebounds and 26.9 minutes. TCU will play Mississippi on Sunday at Hartford, Conn.

•  UC Riverside: Six players with local ties helped the Highlanders (21-10) win the Big West Conference title. Leading the way was sophomore guard Seyram Gbewonyo (Sylmar HS), who was the team's second-leading scorer at 10.2 points a game, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists, and sophomore forward Roney Friend (Torrance Bishop Montgomery HS), who averages 8.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Gbewonyo and Friend started all 31 games for UC Riverside. Brittany Waddell (Hesperia HS), a 5-9 freshman, averages 8.1 points off the bench, and Chanel Foster (Santa Ana Mater Dei HS), a 5-7 sophomore, leads the team in assists at 3.1 a game, also averaging 3.5 points and 2.1 rebounds. Also contributing for the Highlanders are a pair of former high school teammates. Sophomore Amber Cox (Moreno Valley Rancho Verde HS), a 6-2 forward, averages 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds, and sophomore Tainoisouti Lott (Moreno Valley Rancho Verde HS), a 6-2 forward-center, averages 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. Riverside plays Arizona State on Saturday at the Galen Center.

•  Vanderbilt: The Commodores (27-5) are ranked No. 9 in the nation and seeded No. 2 in the Greensboro Regional. Guard Jennifer Risper (Moreno Valley Canyon Springs HS) played in 30 games and started 15 this season. The 5-9 sophomore averages 5.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Vanderbilt opens the tournament Sunday against Delaware State at East Lansing, Mich.

•  Washington: Guard Stefanie Clark (North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake HS), a 5-9 sophomore, helped the Huskies to an 18-12 record. Clark averages 6.9 points and 18.4 minutes. Another key down the stretch has been the play of guard Sami Whitcomb (Ventura Buena HS), a 5-10 freshman. Whitcomb, who sat out 10 games this season because of a broken hand, plays about 13 minutes a game and averages 4.5 points. Washington plays Iowa State on Saturday at Minneapolis.

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"From Here To There" is a weekly web-exclusive column that appears Wednesdays. If you are aware of a former area prep standout competing in sports and excelling at the collegiate level or elsewhere, please let us know. Send any leads, tips or ideas to: jim.barrero@latimes.com.

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