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Key trip awaits Crimson

Harvard focuses on elusive Ivy title

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 4, 2011

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Getting to their goal, the goal of any college basketball team, means getting through this weekend. While, as coach Tommy Amaker said, there are other important weekends, Harvard’s journey to Princeton and Penn tonight and tomorrow will test a team that is young yet in position to win the Ivy League, something no Harvard basketball team has ever done.

And that would send Harvard to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since its one and only trip in 1946.

“It’s every team’s dream right now,’’ Amaker said. “Every team wants to be in the tournament, every team wants to play well, every team would like to win their league and all those other things that you set out to do from day one. And we’ve done all that and we’ve helped ourselves along the way.

“We’ve had some wonderful moments thus far, we’ve had some head-scratching moments as well. I don’t think our kids are so engulfed by it.’’

Nor should they be. Despite having a team populated largely by freshmen and sophomores and without a senior, Harvard has rolled to a 15-3 record and is undefeated in Ivy League play (4-0). That perfect league mark will be put in jeopardy this weekend. Not that Amaker is putting too much emphasis on this road trip, even with a national television date and a chance to solidify the conference lead.

“I don’t think that whatever happens this weekend is going to be the end-all-be-all,’’ Amaker said. “I just don’t believe that at this point.’’

With that in mind, Amaker isn’t doing anything differently. Why should he? Other than stumbles at George Mason, Michigan, and Connecticut, Harvard hasn’t done much wrong this season.

“I think it’s critical that we continue to stay focused on doing the things that we’ve done, not getting ahead of ourselves,’’ he said. “Preparation needs to be sharp. We need to focus on our identity. We talk about that a lot, in terms of who we are as a basketball team.

“We’ll talk a lot about our concentration and we’ll talk a lot about our composure and we’ll talk a lot about our confidence.’’

Those three things — concentration, composure, confidence — have worked in the team’s favor, according to Amaker. They are things the Crimson have “homed in on and held tight to and believe in.’’ He does single out composure, though, as vitally important this weekend, on the road, in environments unfamiliar and unwelcoming to his young team.

“With technology and information and the way the world functions, I don’t think it’s possible to shield or hide or downplay or whatever you want to call it,’’ Amaker said. “We don’t want it to engulf us in any way, but we also want to be honest about the reality of things and hopefully have some fun.

“That’s part of our identity, to embrace the moment, embrace the opportunity, and relax and be prepared, and go play and have some fun with it.’’

If Harvard is able to beat Princeton, it would give the Crimson a nine-game winning streak, their longest since 1945-46, the season that produced their only tournament team. It would also tie Harvard’s best Ivy League start, at 5-0, which has been done twice. And it would be the first win over Princeton since 2008, the first win at Princeton since 1989.

Those achievements, though, mean little in comparison with the ultimate plan for the year.

“We’d like to maximize who we are, where we are,’’ Amaker said. “I think that’s part of the hunger and the passion that this program has right now, and we’d like to achieve that.

“We don’t know when it’s going to happen, whether it happens now, but we feel like we’re certainly in position to make it happen.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.