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The Scholarly Spotlight: Columbia Lions Women's Basketball

The amazing thing about basketball is that it tells a story. No college team's story is more special this year than the Columbia University Lions women. In Megan Griffith's eighth season as head coach, the Lions made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. After finishing 23-6 overall and 13-1 in Ivy League play, they fell to Princeton in the tournament championship. Columbia will play in a first four matchup in the Portland 3 region against Vanderbilt. With the Lions hungry for an upset, they are out to prove their story will continue deeper into March Madness.

The star doing everything for Columbia is Abbey Hsu (A-Bee SHOE). She is averaging 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.0 three-pointers made per game. Her points and three pointers made per game lead the conference, while her rebounds rank third. She is also the Lions all-time leading scorer in both men's and women's basketball with 2,113 points and counting. Hsu's story goes beyond basketball, though. In her junior year of high school, she was in the early stages of recovery for an ACL tear, when the Parkland high school shooting occurred. In March 2020, Hsu's freshman year came to an end after COVID-19 cancelled the last part of the season. She averaged 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in her first year. However, this wasn't her biggest loss. On March 24th of that year, her dad passed due to complications from the deadly virus. Dealing with yet another unbearable tragedy, Hsu decided to step away from school and basketball amidst the 2020-21 season cancellation. Now in her senior year, she has proven she can lead this Lions team in their first NCAA Tournament. A notable game for Hsu was in the conference tournament win against Harvard. She notched a double-double scoring 22 points and grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds. Hsu may appear to be carrying Columbia, but she is also supported by an army of teammates.

Another player who is contributing to the Lions' success while being a pest for her opponents is junior guard Kitty Henderson. She is averaging 11.8 points, 4.1 assists (fourth in conference), and 1.9 steals per game (third in conference) this season. She also has shooting splits of 47.1/32.6/59.6%, showing her capabilities as a shooter. One of Henderson's most impressive games this season was their regular season finale against Cornell. She recorded a double-double, getting 19 points, 11 rebounds and had shooting splits of 58.3/40.0/75% in an efficient road win. In their loss against Florida, Henderson stood out as a positive against a tough SEC opponent early in the season. She got a near triple-double, finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. Henderson has the capability to be an X-factor for Columbia in their pursuit for a tournament win, but she will also get some help from a more efficient shooter. Cecelia Collins transferred from Bucknell to spend her junior year with the Lions. This year she is averaging 13.7 points per game, and has shooting splits of 48.8/33.7/86.9%. Collins is statistically a better free throw shooter than Henderson, but she doesn't spend her time there as much. She really impressed in Columbia's win against Pacific, scoring 28 points with 81.8/75.0/87.5 shooting splits, getting to the free throw line 8 times. Collins is second on the team in scoring behind Hsu, but if teams like Vanderbilt don't defend her, she can be just as a pain for them. The story of how the Lions got into the tournament is a top headline of the season, but they didn't just get in for the publicity. Their resume and conference tournament finish gave them the nod from the Selection Committee.

With many teams to choose from, it was uncertain whether two teams from the Ivy League would go dancing. In a conference usually dominated by one team, Columbia changed the narrative when they finished tied for first. They also dominated to end the season, winning 21 of their last 23 games. Even though The Lions fell to Princeton in the conference championship, they beat the Tigers earlier in the season. Hsu starred in that game leading the way in their only top-25 win. Facing an SEC in their first ever tournament game is a tough draw, but it's nothing the Columbia can't handle. They faced two teams in the conference earlier in the season in Florida and Georgia, losing both. However, they have grown immensely since then. The Lions have taken down their conference foes pretty soundly, with a +12.7 point differential second behind Princeton. They are also second behind Princeton in both field goal percentage (45.4%) and three-point percentage (32.8%), which explains their scoring numbers. They lead the conference in multiple categories including scoring, averaging 76.0 points per game. That is understandable given their amazing guard play, but they do lack defense. Columbia allows 63.2 points per game, which ranks fourth in the Ivy League. While a team like Vanderbilt can take advantage of their defensive flaws, the Lions can rebound their missed shots. They average 39.9 rebounds per game which ranks them as the top in the conference in an important category. Columbia's journey to their first NCAA tournament was an inspiring one. However, now that they have their dancing shoes on, the Lions can start creating their own Cinderella story.


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