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‘Well, what if Harvard wins?’ 25 years later, the Crimson’s epic upset of No. 1 Stanford shines bright.

Harvard's Sarah Russell was euphoric after the Crimson's upset of Stanford in 1998.SUSAN RAGAN

Allison Feaster has a stacked deck of career basketball achievements. She is second all-time in scoring in the Ivy League at 2,312 points. She played 10 seasons in the WNBA and 15 overseas, and she has been part of an NBA Finals run with the Celtics as vice president of player development and organizational growth.

But one triumph ranks above the rest: Harvard’s upset of top-seeded powerhouse Stanford in the NCAA Tournament on March 14, 1998.

“That’s an easy question, actually,” Feaster said. “That is probably at the top of the list. Especially in amateur basketball. I don’t know, there was so much — that win was just so much more than just that one moment.”


Harvard’s 71-67 victory 25 years ago was historic: The Crimson were the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in Division 1 men’s or women’s basketball.

“At the time, I didn’t realize how historic it was,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “But sort of the interest in the sports world and the trivia of it — you know, it really was quite a big deal.”

Delaney-Smith has told and retold stories of the upset. She labels it a crowning moment in her lifetime of coaching accomplishments. But her team never felt like underdogs, she says.

When the Crimson, 22-4 that season, learned of their seeding while crowded into Delaney-Smith’s living room, they felt disrespected. Feaster was the nation’s leading scorer, and Harvard had made the NCAA Tournament the previous two seasons, losing to Vanderbilt and North Carolina.

“We definitely went in with a chip on our shoulder,” said Trisha Brown, an assistant coach. “They’d kind of say, ‘Oh, Harvard, your team’s very nice. You’ve got a nice bunch of girls.’ I remember the kids kind of being annoyed by that.”

Still, they had never played against a team like Stanford, which had won its last 59 home games and made three consecutive Final Four runs.


Harvard blasted heavy metal music on loudspeakers during practice to mimic the roar of the Cardinal’s home crowd. Delaney-Smith had the coaching staff prepare laminated flash cards with coded messages for plays in case the noise proved unbeatable.

Former Harvard star Allison Feaster is now vice president of player development and organizational growth for the Celtics.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The floor at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion was unique at the time for its springy flexibility designed to prevent injuries (it actually did the opposite and was renovated in 2004). The surface caused challenges for Harvard in shootarounds.

“Going onto the floor before the game started, we’re all bouncing up and down,” said point guard Megan Basil Song, “and when Stanford’s team came out, I remember this forceful music — I don’t know if it was like a ‘Star Wars’ theme or something — but the kind where you could feel the thumping in your chest, and the whole crowd was into it.”

The Cardinal faced their own challenges. All-American Kristin Folkl and starting forward Vanessa Nygaard would miss the game with knee injuries.

When the Crimson came out of the locker room to warm up, a venue worker remarked: “Welcome to real basketball.” At halftime, with Harvard ahead, 42-34, Brown found the employee.

“I love real basketball,” she said.

Harvard was succeeding with its triangle offense, which Delaney-Smith had recently implemented after seeing the Chicago Bulls dominate with the scheme. When Delaney-Smith inevitably had to break out the flash cards, her iconic “Backdoor SHOOT” instruction in bold lettering indicated a coded wrinkle for one counter within the triangle.


Feaster, a 5-foot-11-inch forward, thrived in the system and posted a remarkable individual performance with 35 points and 13 rebounds.

“I completely remembered this as a team victory,” she said. “And I say that not because it’s the right thing to say or the politically correct thing to say; I just don’t have a recollection of anyone standing out.

“I just really felt like we were locked in at that moment and getting the best shots and trying to get stops, and just playing great team basketball.”

Though 16 seeds often stay competitive with 1 seeds, the favorite typically pulls away in the second half. That seemed to be happening as Stanford rallied to lead, 65-64, with less than two minutes to go. In the closing possessions, Delaney-Smith switched her team’s man-to-man defense to a zone concept it had scarcely run all season.

The change worked and stymied Stanford. Then Suzie Miller knocked down two jump shots to put Harvard in front, 69-65. The Crimson hung on.

Brown laughs when recalling the final moments of realization before euphoric chaos ensued.

“As the clock is ticking down, the assistants are supposed to sit on the bench,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Where’s the camera gonna go first?’ I’m like, ‘It’s definitely gonna go to Kathy.’ So I tapped her on the leg and I said, ‘You have to hug me first.’ ”


The following days were a blur. Song remembers her teammates taking turns on the hotel payphones to call family and friends. Delaney-Smith and Feaster took the brunt of a media onslaught. Harvard had to face Arkansas in the second round, and after forward Rose Janowski went down with an illness, it lost, 82-64.

A year later, a reporter told Delaney-Smith a story about a conference call ESPN had to map out its national broadcasts of the tournament. The network planned to have Stanford be a pillar of the coverage.

“Everything was ‘Stanford this, Stanford that,’ and one other person on the call said, ‘Well, what if Harvard wins?’ And everybody on the phone calls started laughing, saying that will never happen,” Delaney-Smith said.

When the Crimson returned home, Harvard dean Harry Lewis and dozens of student supporters greeted them at Logan Airport. Song learned that students and faculty crammed into the Lowell House junior common room to watch the upset on ESPN. She eventually received a VHS tape of the gathering.

“I guarantee you, in that little JCR, there were people who had never watched a basketball game before, let alone a women’s game,” Song said. “And in that moment, we all won.”

The team has spread across the globe since that magical game, though many reconvene for Harvard alumni weekends. Delaney-Smith retired last spring after 40 years at the helm of the Crimson. Brown just finished her 22nd year as head coach at Stonehill. Feaster is ingrained in a Celtics squad contending for an NBA title.


Song lives with her husband and four children in Cambridge. Once, while at a playground, she was stopped by the mother of her child’s friend and asked if she once played for Harvard. The child had recognized Song from a 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated Kids’ “Top Ten of Everything in Sports” book.

“I didn’t even know that book existed,” Song said. “It’s really fun to be reminded in small ways. It’s a really incredible reminder of how lucky I was to be a part of that community.”

Ethan Fuller can be reached at ethan.fuller@globe.com.