Monday, January 6, 2014
Saunders adds to Harvard's honor roll
By Jack McCluskey
At this rate, the Ivy League might need to create a "non-Harvard" division for its weekly awards.
After averaging 19.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in wins over Boston College and Rice, Wesley Saunders was named Ivy League co-player of the week on Monday. It’s the third such honor for Saunders in 2013-14, and the eighth in his career.
Saunders’ win marks the fifth time in the past six weeks that the award has gone to a member of the Crimson. In addition to Saunders’ honors on Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, Siyani Chambers earned the honor on Dec. 23 and Dec. 30.
With eight career weekly Ivy honors, Saunders is tied for second all time. Only Brown’s Earl Hunt and Princeton’s Ian Hummer have earned more, with nine each.
Columbia junior Alex Rosenberg shares this week’s award, after scoring 23 points and grabbing nine rebounds in a double-overtime win at Colgate and scoring 21 points in a win over St. Francis Brooklyn.
Saunders, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound L.A. native, had a game-high 21 points (on 8-for-10 shooting) in a New Year’s Day win over the Eagles, and a game-high 18 points (on 8-for-13 shooting) in the win at Rice on Saturday.
Perhaps more impressive against BC, Saunders helped limit Eagles leading scorer Olivier Hanlan to just 13 points (on 3-for-12 shooting). On one sequence, Saunders picked Hanlan’s pocket in a one-on-one matchup near half court and converted the steal into an easy layup.
After the game, Saunders was asked what he thinks about guarding the opposition’s best player on a nightly basis.
“I like guarding the best player, that’s something that [coach Tommy Amaker] wants me to do,” the junior said. “So it’s a great challenge every night. Luckily my teammates were there to have my back whenever [Hanlan] would get by me or do any moves. So it was just a great team effort again, which is always the case on defense.
“The offense just kind of flows, and it’ll come regardless. So really the main thing is just focusing on defense. Defense is the way you win the game, so it’s more important.”
The Ivy League office isn’t the only group noticing Saunders’ outstanding all-around play for 13-1 Harvard this season.
“I have a great respect for Saunders,” BC coach Steve Donahue said after Harvard’s sixth straight win in the series. “I think he’s just a really good basketball player.”
Hanlan was complimentary, as well.
“He plays pretty good,” the sophomore said of Saunders. “He runs the plays, he runs his team. I feel like he does a pretty good job in the situation he’s in.”
Though he’s sitting fourth in the Ivy in scoring at 15.7 points per game, Saunders is no one-trick pony. He’s also first in steals at 2.4 per game and second in assists at 3.8 per game.
The Crimson will get back to work on Wednesday night when they finish their nonconference schedule with a game against Connecticut in Storrs before beginning Ivy play at home against Dartmouth on Saturday.
And though the Huskies are on a two-game losing streak -- dropping games at Houston and SMU -- and fell out of the AP Top 25 on Monday (they had been No. 17), the game may well represent the biggest test to date for Saunders and the Crimson.
A good showing against Shabazz Napier, Deandre Daniels and the Huskies would likely go a long way to earning Saunders yet another weekly award.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.