Whenever you’re in last place, no conference opponent can be looked at as an easy win. But despite entering this weekend’s games in the Ivy League basement, the Yale women’s basketball team (3-14, 0-4 Ivy) also cannot be looked at as a pushover.
The Bulldogs’ four Ivy League losses this season have all come against three of the Ancient Eight’s top four teams — first-place University of Pennsylvania (9-6, 3-0), third-place Princeton (5-11, 2-1), and fourth-place Brown (9-8, 2-2). And three of those defeats were decided in the final minute of play or on the last possession of the game.
“Records as we know it can be deceiving,” Yale guard Morgan Richards ’05 said. “Because the league is so competitive, no matter what the team’s record, we need to come out with intensity.”
The parity in the Ivies this season is exemplified by the conference performances of the Bulldogs’ two opponents this weekend: Columbia (7-9, 1-3) and Cornell (7-10, 2-2).
While it appears that the Elis will take on two mediocre squads on their New York road trip, facing the Lions on Friday and the Big Red on Saturday, both foes have already surprised a few teams.
In one of the biggest upsets of the season, Cornell beat defending league champion Harvard 66-64 in overtime on Jan. 30. But the previous weekend, it was the seventh-place Lions who actually stunned their travel partner, defeating the Big Red 76-67.
But the Bulldogs badly need to beat up on Columbia to move up in the standings.
“We play well at Columbia, and that should be a good start to our weekend,” forward Christina Phillips ’04 said.
To come out of the weekend with a sweep, the Elis have to make the most of every possession. Yale has the second-best team 3-point shooting percentage in the Ivies (37.7 percent), and center Erica Davis ’07 can easily score in double digits with an adequate number of touches in the post. But Yale also has the worst turnover margin in the league, keeping it from maximizing its offensive weapons.
In other words, the Bulldogs cannot afford to come out with 17 turnovers again like they did last Friday at the Palestra.
“When we look at the Penn game, we led in so many [statistical] categories, but we had 17 turnovers in the first half,” Phillips said.
But sloppiness with the ball is not an easy mistake to solve.
“The problem with turnovers is it’s not an error people do on purpose,” Richards said. “We’re trying to look at the trends in our turnovers and see if there are any general patterns we can adjust.”
Specifically, Richards said, Yale needs to improve on passing the ball in and out of the post and responding to fluctuations in the opponent’s defensive pressure.
In addition, Yale assistant coach Yvonne Hawkins said the coaching staff may repeat the rotation changes made in last Saturday’s loss at Princeton.
At Princeton, forward Julie Mantilla ’07 was moved into the starting lineup to play alongside center Erica Davis ’07 in attempt to create a size advantage for Yale. Mantilla and Davis combined for eight blocks in Friday night’s game at Penn and rejected a total five shots against the Tigers.
“The reason for the change was based on the team we were playing [last] Saturday,” Hawkins said. “[Princeton was] smaller inside — As far as this weekend, it’s a decision we make based on scouting reports and we’re not sure yet.”
Considering that Cornell has no true center in its starting lineup and Columbia’s roster lists several sub-six-foot players at center, it may be to the Elis’ advantage to play their “twin towers” together again.
But whatever the strategy, the Bulldog players and coaches feel the urgency to pick up their first Ivy League win.
“Both of these teams have a win under their belts, which we don’t,” Hawkins said. “But what they don’t have, we have: we’re hungry.”