February 17, 2024 

How Abbey Hsu became Columbia basketball’s all-time leading scorer

‘Just a great person to break a record’

When Abbey Hsu stepped to the free-throw line with 6:46 left in the third quarter on Friday, she didn’t know she was about to break Columbia’s career scoring record. But then she saw the Lions’ assistant athletics director, Kyle Mattracion, position himself under the basket with his camera, and she figured her free throws would be particularly consequential.

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Mattracion and head coach Megan Griffith had been keeping track of Hsu’s points all game against Dartmouth, comparing notes to make sure the math added up. Hsu, a 5’11 senior guard, entered the game with 1,962 career points, 11 behind Camille Zimmerman for the most ever across Columbia men’s and women’s basketball.

Just like Zimmerman did on Jan. 20, 2018, Hsu set the record at the free-throw line, hitting two of her three foul shots. And once she got back on defense, Griffith said, Hsu gave Griffith a small smile to acknowledge the moment before Hsu’s teammates feted her at the next media timeout.

“I don’t think it’s really set in yet,” Hsu told The Next postgame, fresh off celebrating with her teammates in the locker room and with some family in attendance. “But it is definitely cool. … [It] feels like a special night.”

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Hsu got off to a fast start on Friday, scoring on a pull-up jump shot from the elbow less than two minutes into the game. A few minutes later, she made one of her most recognizable moves, a jab step to create separation for her 3-pointer. She drained the shot with a defender’s hand in her face, right in front of Dartmouth head coach Linda Cimino.

In the second quarter, she added five more points by cutting backdoor for a layup and nailing a 3-pointer in transition, both off passes from junior guard Cecelia Collins. That set up her third-quarter free throws to break Zimmerman’s record.

Hsu tacked on five more points to finish with 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-6 on 3-pointers. She added seven rebounds and two assists, playing 26:23 in Columbia’s 80-56 win on the road. She now has 1,979 career points, which ranks fourth in Ivy League women’s basketball history.

“I’m just so incredibly proud of her and just how she does things, how she goes about her work,” Griffith told The Next postgame. “I think that honestly she’s such a joy to coach because she shows up the same way every day. … That’s just kind of who she’s been all year is just Miss Consistent.”

“[The scoring record has] been there a while, so it’s about time it gets broken,” Zimmerman told The Next in January, “and yeah, I’m really happy for her. … Not just because she’s a prolific scorer, but she’s helping her team win. She’s a leader and she’s a great person as well. So all around, just a great person to break a record.”

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Griffith said on Friday that Hsu claiming the record felt “inevitable,” and it had for the past few months. But it wasn’t a guarantee earlier in her career that Hsu would become the program’s best scorer ever.

When Griffith recruited Hsu, she knew the Florida native was a good shooter, but she wasn’t sure she’d be a great one, Griffith told The Next in 2023. Where Hsu separated herself right away, both Griffith and Zimmerman said, was in her work ethic. And once Hsu’s confidence started to grow, more and more shots fell. Earlier this season, Hsu broke the Ivy League career 3-point record with 288, and she’s now at 351 and counting on 38.5% shooting.

Even heading into Hsu’s senior season, though, it wasn’t certain she’d catch Zimmerman, based on her career average of 16.3 points per game through three seasons. It was likely to happen in March if she matched her junior-year average of 17.8 points per game.

But this season, the three-time All-Ivy League selection has reached another level as a scorer, averaging 21.1 points per game and diversifying her shot chart like never before. She is taking about 45% of her shots from behind the arc and 31% within 10 feet of the rim, compared with about 60% and 21% over the previous two seasons.

Zimmerman returned to campus in November and practiced with the team, and she immediately noticed how Hsu had elevated her game. She had worked out with Hsu in past summers, but seeing her practice in season was different.

“I was like, wow, Abbey is a leader. She’s dominant on everything she’s doing,” Zimmerman said. “She was getting every rebound in practice, really consistently hitting shots — even shots where my hand is touching her face.

“So I think that that is probably when I was most impressed with her is seeing how consistently she’s just elite at practice. And obviously that’s why she’s able to transfer that over to the games.”

Columbia guard Abbey Hsu holds her follow-through after taking a 3-pointer. Brown guard Bella Mauricio turns to box out Hsu, and the Columbia players on the bench behind them raise their arms, anticipating a celebration.
Columbia guard Abbey Hsu (35) holds her follow-through after shooting a 3-pointer over Brown guard Bella Mauricio (4) in a game at Levien Gymnasium in New York, N.Y., on Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics / Lem Photography)

Hsu started off her senior season hot, surpassing 20 points in each of her first three games, and never really slowed down. She currently leads the Ivy League and ranks 17th in the country in scoring. That helped her break Zimmerman’s record with five regular-season games to spare.

After the buzzer sounded on Friday, Cimino retrieved the game ball from the officials and gave it to Hsu in the handshake line.

“She competes at the highest level [and] makes everyone around her better,” Cimino told The Next on Friday. “… I think it’s important to celebrate milestones, and I wanted to make sure she got the game ball because it’s an unbelievable accomplishment and she earned that honor.”

Hsu celebrated with her aunt, uncle, cousin and cousin-in-law, who had driven up the East Coast to be there on Friday and brought a large cardboard sign reading, “Abbey Hsu-oot the ball.” (“Hsu” is pronounced “shoo.”) She also got a postgame water bath, as Griffith and her staff took advantage of there being two entrances to the visitors’ locker room to sneak in the back and jump-start the dousing.

“I knew it was coming,” Hsu said, “but it kind of snuck up on me, so I just had to take it.”

Zimmerman had texted Hsu before Friday’s game, telling her to savor her record-breaking moment. “Her biggest thing was, take it all in. Don’t be too cool for the moment. Just embrace it,” Hsu said.

Part of the reason Hsu got to embrace her moment fully was because Columbia got the win, improving to 8-1 in the Ivy League and 17-5 overall. Over her four seasons, Hsu has helped usher in a new era of Columbia basketball: From 1986, when Columbia began competing in Division I, to 2014, the Lions won just 30% of their games. From 2014 to 2018, when Zimmerman played, the Lions showed modest progress, winning 36% of their games. But since Hsu’s arrival in 2019, Columbia has won 76% of its games — and won a whopping 78% in Ivy League play.

“[Hsu’s] growth here in this program … coincides with the growth of our program,” Griffith told reporters on Feb. 8. (The growth of the program can also be traced back to Griffith, an alumna who was hired before Zimmerman’s junior year in 2016.)

In contrast, Zimmerman set her record in a loss to Cornell. For Griffith, it was an opportunity to celebrate Zimmerman’s effort and dedication, but for Zimmerman, it felt bittersweet.

“My records just always were kind of a burden,” she said. “Like, okay, cool, I broke something. But we’re losing, and my whole goal is to get to the Ivy Tournament, get to the NCAA Tournament. And we just couldn’t do that, so the records in the moment didn’t feel as special.”

Columbia guard Camille Zimmerman looks at the basket and leans forward slightly as she gets past a defender for a left-handed layup.
Columbia guard Camille Zimmerman (20) shoots a left-handed layup during a game against Cornell at Levien Gymnasium in New York, N.Y., on Jan. 20, 2018. (Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics / Mike McLaughlin)

Columbia has also played different styles over the years around its two superstars, who were very different scorers. The Lions mostly played through Zimmerman, a 6’1 guard/forward, in the post, whereas now they often start five guards, spread the court and shoot lots of 3-pointers. Zimmerman scored 66% of her points off 2-pointers, 23% off free throws and only 11% from behind the arc. But Hsu has scored 53% of her points off 3-pointers, 36% from 2-pointers and 11% from free throws.

“When I was in college, I didn’t shoot [threes] that much, and it wasn’t really like, Oh, I’m not a shooter,” Zimmerman said. “It was just, I can get to the basket at will. So why would I not go get a layup instead of a three?

“But I think [Abbey] is kind of the opposite. Her three, if she can get it off, is so consistent that why would you not take a shot before driving?”

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In the Ivy League women’s basketball record books, Hsu now trails only three players in career points: Penn’s Diana Caramanico (2,415), Harvard’s Allison Feaster (2,312) and Harvard’s Hana Peljto (2,109). That trio combined to win eight straight Ivy League Player of the Year awards between 1996 and 2003.

Hsu could join them as the fourth women’s player to reach 2,000 points as soon as Sunday, when Columbia plays at Harvard. She also has a chance to pass Peljto’s total by the end of her career in Columbia blue.

Wherever Hsu sets the bar at season’s end, she’ll set it for both men’s and women’s basketball at Columbia, a fact that Zimmerman finds especially satisfying.

“[When I set the record,] I remember thinking, Oh, that’s cool that I beat the boys, too,” she said. “I just feel like growing up, that was always a cool thing — like, you can be better than the boys. So it’s great to see that Abbey’s keeping the tradition alive.”

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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