Judging by the halftime scores at the Yale women’s basketball pair of home games this weekend, it would have been difficult to predict that the Bulldogs would lose Friday night, but pick up their first Ivy League win the following evening.
Against defending league champion Harvard (10-10, 3-4 Ivy) Saturday night, the Elis (4-18, 1-7) ended the first half with a mere 24-22 lead. But solid defense and adequate offensive output helped Yale hold off the Crimson for a 62-59 victory. The Bulldogs’ clutch finish over the Cantabs came in sharp contrast to the previous night. In one of their hottest halves this season, the Bulldogs built a 42-23 lead before the break. But after shooting 68.0 percent in the first half, the Yale dropped to 14.3 percent in the second, resulting in a shocking 59-53 loss to Dartmouth (12-8, 5-2).
Despite a demoralizing defeat Friday night, the Bulldogs did not appear shaken up when they stepped out onto the pinewood at the John J. Lee Amphitheater against Harvard 22 hours later.
“[Yale] is really unbelievably strong in that respect,” Yale head coach Amy Backus said after the win over Harvard. “I did not doubt that [Yale’s players] would come out and play hard.”
With 19 seconds to go, guard Brynn Gingras ’04 seemed to have all but sealed a Yale victory by hitting two free throws to put Yale up 61-56. Seven seconds later, Harvard guard Beverly Moore launched a 3-pointer from about 25 feet out to bring it back to 61-59. On Yale’s ensuing inbound play, Gingras was fouled before any time could run off the clock and made one-of-two free throws, giving the Crimson a chance to tie.
On the Crimsons’ final play, forward Reka Cserny received the ball with her back to the basket near the top of the key, but could not find any Cantab shooters. Finally, forward Hana Peltjo cut around the perimeter and used Cserny as a screen to free herself and allow Cserny to drop off the ball to her. Peltjo’s open look hit off the front of the rim and the Eli bench leaped up in celebration as the buzzer sounded.
“It felt great — first of all, just to get a win, and second, that it was against Harvard made it that much sweeter,” Yale forward Christina Phillips ’04 said.
At moments Saturday night, the Elis looked like they might have fallen victim to the type of scoring droughts that sunk them in the second half against Dartmouth the night before. But against Harvard, Phillips came up with the key plays that were missing the previous evening.
With both teams struggling to score in the first half Saturday, Phillips found guard Bonnie Smith ’04 on a sharp cut for a left-handed lay-up to take a 12-10 lead. Later, the 6-foot forward stepped outside and buried a 3-pointer to silence a 5-0 Harvard run to even the score at 15-15.
In the second half, Phillips helped break open the game with under seven minutes to play. She attacked Harvard’s twin towers, forwards Reka Cserny and Hana Peltjo, converting on an up-and-under lefty finish and then a hard drive and lay-up with the left hand to give Yale a 52-44 advantage.
Backus and Phillips said the strategy going in was to take it to Peltjo and Cserny, who rank first and third in scoring average in the conference, since neither player would want to get into foul trouble. Peltjo, the back-to-back league Player of the Year, picked up her third foul with 10:43 left in the game.
“Little by little, our confidence grew playing against Harvard — and we were confident [down the stretch] that we were going to win,” Phillips said.
Phillips finished the game with a team-high 13 points, while center Erica Davis ’07 was right behind with 11.
On defense, the Bulldogs held Peltjo and Cserny to a combined 34 points, about eight points below their joint season average.
But the duo scored 22 of their points in the second half to keep the Cantabs alive until the final play.
While the Bulldogs kept Harvard from coming back with clutch free-throw shooting (17-of-20), a five-of-12 performance from the line opened the door for Dartmouth Friday night. Shooting four-of-28 from the field, the Elis may have hung on had they been able to convert at the charity stripe.
“In the second half, we were getting the same looks, but they just weren’t dropping, they just weren’t dropping,” Backus said.
As disheartening as the Dartmouth loss was, the Bulldogs’ first half performance against the Big Green did demonstrate their offensive potential.
“We played an outstanding first half,” Backus said. “I haven’t seen anything like it. We were as cold in the second half as we were hot in the first.”