M. bball crawls back into Ivy race

At about 8:30 last Saturday night, I was convinced that a conspiracy had ensnared Yale sports. Maybe Athletic Director Tom Beckett had sent a secret memo to all Yale coaches with a simple plan: get big leads and blow them. How else could I explain how men’s hockey had blown a four-goal lead against Harvard on Friday while the basketball team’s 20-point advantage on Cornell was quickly dissolving?

Fortunately, the hoopsters were able to hold off Cornell to notch an important win. When the lead twice dwindled to eight, Alex Gamboa responded with a lay-up and then a back-breaking three, ending my paranoia — for now.

Overall, the victory over Big Red, previously unbeaten in the Ivies, was very impressive, particularly on the offensive end. The defense deserves rave reviews too for holding Cornell to 48 points the day after the Big Red had scored twice as many at Brown. But, for a team whose offense has stagnated all season, it was nice to finally see things clicking for the Bulldogs. Basically, if you wanted to put a highlight reel together for the season thus far, at least half the plays would come from Saturday’s game.

Matt Minoff set the tone with three dunks in the first half alone, shattering the Yale record previously held by Ime Archibong ’03. When the team captain threw down an alley-oop from Gamboa that looked like it was headed for the band section, it was the highlight of the season.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were creating open shots and actually knocking them down. Casey Hughes knocked down a three, and Gamboa converted a three-point play. Dominick Martin nailed a streak of unguardable hook shots, and Sam Kaplan and Justin Simon set each other up for lay-ups with great interior passes on consecutive possessions.

The team looked so good that I couldn’t help but think of the 2001 NFC championship game between the Giants and Vikings. Bear with me. Somewhere en route to the 41-0 whitewash, my mom — a big Giants fan who has had more than her fair share of great sports quotes — exclaimed “Who’s wearing our uniforms!” It was a great point. There was no other way to explain how a team with no offense could put up 41. Okay, maybe the Vikings’ secondary would be a good place to start. But anyway, this story was more than a shameless attempt to glorify my mom and the last playoff win the Giants will ever get. Playing with a ton of confidence, the Bulldogs really did look like a completely different team.

Honestly, Cornell only hung around because of second chance points and the fact that the officials had to decided to call fouls on all Yale blocked shots. This is a conspiracy I’m absolutely sure of, but I might be a little biased.

Besides the Bulldogs weekend sweep of Columbia and Cornell, other factors combined to put the team back in the Ivy race. On Friday, Cornell handed Brown its second Ivy loss. And on Tuesday, Penn beat Princeton 67-52 at Jadwin.

With these two results, Yale is almost in control of its own destiny once again. Coming into last weekend, the Bulldogs (8-11, 3-3 Ivy) faced the possibility that even if they won their remaining Ivy games (a big proposition), they still might not have the chance to catch Brown (8-11, 4-2), Princeton (11-7, 4-1), or Cornell (10-9, 5-1).

Now, Brown and Cornell only need to drop one more game a piece for the Elis to have a chance to catch them. The chances are good. The Bears play road games at Princeton and Cornell, both of which dominated Brown in Providence, in addition to the always tough game against Penn in the Palestra. The Big Red would only have to lose one more game on a schedule that includes two games apiece against each of the “Killer P’s.”

The fact that Princeton proved themselves vulnerable this weekend and lost on Tuesday were also huge. On Saturday night, the Cantabs (2-17, 1-5) took Princeton into double OT. Last Wednesday, I called Yale’s 59-46 loss to the Tigers at Jadwin the worst basketball game ever. Saturday’s Princeton-Harvard “battle” has now taken that title.

I tuned in with Harvard leading 38-34 with eight minutes left in regulation. After those eight minutes and another ten minutes of overtime, the Cantabs had connected on only one field goal. Somehow, this 2-17 team almost knocked off Princeton. I guess one of the downsides of Princeton’s strategy of ruining every game it plays, i.e. slowing the tempo down to a grinding halt, is that the Tigers keep the scoring low and allow bad teams to hang around.

Penn’s win at Jadwin on Tuesday put the Bulldogs back in the race. Basically, Yale needs to win at Princeton and have the Tigers accumulate at least two losses against Penn, Brown, or Cornell, assuming that Columbia, Harvard, and Dartmouth have no chance of beating Princeton. (Although who can be sure after Saturday?) I don’t see Brown winning at Jadwin, especially after they got dominated in Providence. We’ll get to see how Cornell and Princeton match up this weekend, but the Big Red looked terrible on Saturday.

Yale really needs Penn to hang two defeats on Princeton. The Quakers put one of those two losses on the board, and I like their chances of doing it again, especially with the home court advantage of the Palestra.

So, despite losing three out of their first four Ivy games this season, the Bulldogs are pretty much back in control of their destiny. Against Cornell, the team showed signs of actually being able to play its best game. Now, all the Bulldogs need to do is run the table.

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