All week long, fliers have been going up around campus to encourage fans to come out Saturday night and help the Yale women’s basketball team break the program’s fan attendance record.
Although the Bulldogs (3-16, 0-6 Ivy) are in last place in the Ivy League, there are several reasons why Saturday’s game against Harvard (9-9, 2-3) — not to mention Friday’s contest against Dartmouth (11-7, 4-1) — merits the presence of the Eli faithful.
While both games present interesting match-ups, a chance to give that “other school in Cambridge” a proper welcome is almost always the biggest athletic attraction in town.
“The sense of revenge, of urgency, to beat Harvard is always there,” guard Tory Mauseth ’05 said.
This year’s grudge match also gives the Bulldogs an opportunity to help spoil the defending Ivy champion Cantabs’ chance of returning to the top spot. Although some thought the Crimson would roll through the Ancient Eight without a loss, the Harvard has already picked up three defeats — one more mark in the “L” column would almost surely end Cantabs’ reign.
“Harvard’s in a precarious situation,” Yale head coach Amy Backus said. “Hopefully, they’ll be more on the defensive this season.”
It may actually be the Bulldogs who will have to work hard on the defensive end this weekend. The Crimson and the Big Green have the top two scoring offenses in the league at 75.4 and 70.2 points per game, respectively.
Between the two teams, three of the conference’s top four scorers will be coming to “Da Church” this weekend.
Cantab senior Hana Peljto, the returning back-to-back Ivy League Player of the Year, is on pace for another award-winning season. The 6-foot-2-inch forward leads the Ivies with career bests in points per game (23.6 ppg.) and rebounds per game (10.1 rpg.)
The Bulldogs will also have their paws full with Harvard center Reka Cserny, who is third in league in scoring (18.2 ppg.) and Dartmouth freshman phenom Elise Morrison, fourth in scoring (17.6 ppg.).
But the Elis have had success containing the Ivies’ best throughout the season. On Jan. 30, Yale held Pennsylvania forward Jewell Clark — the league’s second-leading scorer — to a season-low seven points.
Guard Julie Cohen ’04, who defended Clark during most of the 59-57 heartbreaker, said the Elis must also watch out for Harvard’s and Dartmouth’s respective supporting casts.
“[Peljto and Cserny] may get their points, but the question is if we can keep everyone else in check,” Cohen said.
The other big threat this weekend will be 6-foot-4-inch Morrison, who just earned her seventh Ivy League Rookie of the Week award. The Bulldogs will look to contain the Dartmouth big woman through a kaleidoscope of different post players — center Erica Davis ’07, forward Christina Phillips ’04, center Julie Mantilla ’07, and center Aubrey Smith ’04.
“We have four different post players that we can throw at [Morrison], [and] she’s going to have to guard four different post players,” Cohen said.
At the same time, Backus said that because of both opponents’ strong 3-point shooting, she may rely on a zone defense to cover the perimeter.
Besides these visiting talents, Yale fans who attended last year’s Harvard-Dartmouth weekend have another reason to expect excitement this weekend. The final weekend of the 2002-03 season arguably yielded the year’s best pair of games at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Elis nearly gave the Cantabs its only league loss but fell 69-65. The following night, the Big Green tied the score with a 35-foot buzzer beater, and the Bulldogs lost 84-77 in overtime.
Finally, there will be additional significance on Saturday evening as Yale will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of its 1979 Ivy championship season.
“It’s easy to get geared up [this weekend] for us,” Cohen said.