NEW YORK - The Columbia women’s basketball team (3-22, 1-10 Ivy League) will hit the road for the final three games of the 2011-12 season, closing out the year in the Northeast. The Lions face off against Harvard, Friday, March 2 and Dartmouth, Saturday, March 3, before ending the year with a game ar Cornell, Tuesday, March 6. All games are slated to tip-off at 7 p.m.

Columbia is coming off its first Ivy League win of the season, as the Lions beat Yale Friday, knocking the Bulldogs out of contention for the Ivy League title. Columbia beat Yale, 56-52, led by Tyler Simpson’s 20 points, and Courtney Bradford’s career-high 18 rebounds. Columbia’s defense held Yale to 23.9% shooting, the lowest of any opponent this season. Saturday night, the Lions dropped a game to Brown 75-63, their second loss to the Bears this season. 

Harvard holds a significant edge over the Lions all-time, with a 50-2 record against Columbia. 

The Big Green hold an advantage all-time over the Lions, 40-11, but Columbia’s won three of the last five, and will be looking to split the series in 2011-12, as they did in 2010-11.

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The back-to-back Harvard/Dartmouth weekend at home proved to be a frustrating one for Columbia, as the Lions stayed close with the Crimson, but couldn’t sustain the same level of play against the Big Green. In the Friday night game, Columbia lost a close one to Harvard, 68-56, as Simson, Bradford and Melissa Shafer all scored in double figures. Saturday against Dartmouth, Columbia struggled offensively, falling 59-44, as Simpson scored 21 points for the Lions.

Harvard is currently third in the Ivy League with a 7-4 record, and playing for the post-season. The Crimson are currently one half-game behind Yale in contention for the league’s automatic invite to play in the WNIT. 

Most recently, Harvard squeaked by Penn on the road, 57-53, after falling to league-leading Princeton, 74-44 the night before. The Crimson are near the top the league in several categories, including No.1 in Free Throw Percentage (76.9), No.2 in rebounding offense (39.4) and defense (34.3) and field goal percentage (40.5), as well as No.3 in scoring offense (63.8) and blocked shots (3.2). Last time against the Lions, the Crimson went a perfect 21-for-21 at the free throw line, an opportunity Columbia will be looking to deny this time around. 

Three players average in double figures for the Crimson, including Christine Clark (15.2), Brogan Berry (12.2) and Victoria Lippert (12.2). Miriam Rutzen is the leading rebounder, with 6.2 RPG, and she also leads the team in blocks, with 22 this season. 

Dartmouth will be looking for its first home win this weekend, as the Big Green have yet to win in Leede Arena. Dartmouth has a 7-1 record at home against the Lions in the past eight years, and will be playing the Lions on senior night, so to say the Big Green have something to play for is an understatement. 

Last weekend, Dartmouth suffered two tough losses on the road, losing to Penn, 63-49, and Princeton, 94-57, in a game that clinched the Tigers’ Ivy League championship. Dartmouth’s last win came over Brown, Feb. 18, as the Big Green beat the Bears, 57-52. 

Faziah Steen is the major source of offense for Dartmouth, as she’s the lone figure averaging more than 10 points a game, at 15.5. Sasha Dosenko is next for the Big Green, with 8.0 points again. Tia Dawson, who had a double-double in the loss at Penn, is the leading rebounder, averaging 6.8 RPG.

Senior Melissa Shafer, who led the team in scoring for the first half of the season, is currently setting her sights on becoming Columbia’s all-time best perimeter shooter. Shafer set a new program record in three pointers attempted two weeks ago, and she’s just two made shots away from tying the program record in three pointers made. 

1. Emily Roller (1995-99) 161
2.   Melissa Shafer (2008-Present) 159
3. Megan O’Neill (1999-03) 120
4. Sue Altman (2002-05) 119
5. Susan Kern (2001-05) 118

1. Melissa Shafer (2008-Present) 478
2. Emily Roller (1995-99) 467
3. Shawnee Pickney (1997-01) 383
4. Megan O’Neill (1999-03) 376
5. Megan Griffith (2003-07) 356

Tyler Simpson and the calendar year 2012 are getting along just fine, thank you. The junior has seen dramatic improvement in the second half of the season, including multiple career games, and an incredible output. After averaging 8.2 points per game in the months of November and December, Simpson has skyrocketed to the top of Columbia’s offense, averaging 14.2 points per game in the month of January, and an incredible 17.6 points per game average in February. 

The Lawrenceville, N.J. native has led the Lions in scoring in nine of the 11 games played since January 1. Since earning her first start of the season in December, Simpson has started every one of Columbia’s last 14 games, and has set new career highs in points (26), minutes (38), field goals made (9), field goals attempted (20), rebounds (10), free throws made (11) and free throws attempted (14). 

She’s scored in double figures in 13 of the last 14 games, including a career-high 26 points against Brown, February 10. That 26-point performance was the first time a Lion had scored more than 25 points in a game since Judie Lomax did it at Dartmouth on January 30, 2010. She is leading the Lions with a 12.6 ppg average, and shooting .463 from the field. She’s also ranked seventh in the Ivy League in PPG, and leads the Ivy League in field goal %.

The Lions have out-rebounded opponents just three times this season, including most recently, against Cornell. The Lions grabbed 38 rebounds, including 21 offensive rebounds, to Cornell’s 28 total rebounds. Courtney Bradford had seven offensive rebounds, matching Cornell’s team total. The December 11 game against the Blackbirds marked the first time this season the Lions out-rebounded their opponents. Columbia notched 38 total rebounds, including 27 defensive rebounds, while LIU had 31 total rebounds. The January 4 game at Lafayette is the other  best effort for the Lions on the boards. Columbia snagged 44 rebounds to the Leopards’ 31, including 24 defensive rebounds to Lafayette’s eight offensive rebounds.  

Senior co-captain Jazmin Fuller had her Columbia coming out party this January, as her statistics skyrocketed. Earning her first two starts of the season against Princeton and Cornell, Fuller averaged 15.75 minutes per game in the month of January, compared to just 5.75 minutes per game in November and December. And her other numbers have gone up as well. In Columbia’s loss to Cornell, Fuller matched her career-high with six points scored, and set new career highs in minutes (22), assists (3), FGM (3) and FGA (6).

Junior guard Taylor Ball is seventh in the Ivy League in assists per game, with a 2.6 assists per game average. And when Ball passes the ball, the Lions win. She had her season-high assist total in the win against Army (7), and nearly matched that in Columbia’s win over Bryant (6). The only time Ball has had more than five assists and the Lions haven’t won was the game against Hawai’i on December 3. 

Columbia has had three different Ivy League Rookies of the Week this year. First-year Amara Mbionwu was the first to earn the honor for the week of Nov. 13, as she averaged 6.5 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds in two games for the Lions. The next week, Miwa Tachibana took the honor, as she led the Lions in scoring against Wagner. Tachibana was 4-for-7, scoring 11 points. And in January, Caitlyn Unsworth made it 3-for-3, as she was named Rookie of the week, scoring 18 points in two games for the Lions.