Last Saturday’s devastating loss to Harvard reduced Yale’s chances of winning the Ivy League from slim to none.
Make that almost none.
With half of the conference season yet to be played, the Bulldogs (9-12, 4-4 Ivy) are still in arithmetic contention for the title, barely.
“We’re not out of it,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “You never know what could happen.”
What could happen? Dartmouth could win out, Judson Wallace could flunk out a la Spencer Gloger or Jeff Schiffner could not hit another three this season — the possibilities are endless. But let’s examine some of the more likely ways the Bulldogs could come away with the crown: first, the Bulldogs needs to win the rest of the way. Easier said than done, especially with road games against Princeton and Penn on tap this weekend. The last time Yale won a regular season game at either Jadwin or the Palestra was when Yale guard Alex Gamboa ’05 was in eighth grade.
“Jadwin has a weird feel,” Gamboa said. “It’s kind of an airplane hangar that’s been turned into a gym. They usually get some good crowds there and the Palestra.”
The Bulldogs have played well against the league’s top competition with victories over Penn and Cornell earlier this season. Despite recently falling to the Cantabs, Yale comes into this weekend having won four of its last six games. The challenge for the Elis, as it has been all season, is to keep up their intensity, especially at the defensive end. Their inconsistency in protecting their own basket was apparent last weekend.
On Friday, the Bulldogs limited Dartmouth (3-19, 1-7) to 40 points on 34.7 percent shooting from the field, including 0-of-9 from long range. The next night, they allowed Harvard (3-18, 2-6) to shoot over 50 percent for the game.
“We lacked that intensity against Harvard,” center Dominick Martin ’05 said. “We allowed them to drive and the defense fell apart.”
Second, the Bulldogs need a lot of help. Four teams — Princeton (13-7, 6-1), Brown (10-11, 6-2), Penn (12-8, 5-2), and Cornell (10-11, 5-3) — currently sit atop Yale in the conference standings. Save Brown, the Bulldogs have a shot to hand each of those teams another loss. After that, it’s up to the league leaders to beat up on each other and the league losers to pull off some major upsets.
If there is one thing working in Yale’s favor, it is the fact that there is unusual parity in the league this year. No one team has dominated, as Penn did last season, when it went 14-0 in conference play. The Tigers, currently in first place, are hardly perfect. At times they have looked unimpressive, falling easily to the Quakers at home while needing overtime to beat the Lions and two extra periods to down the Crimson.
“With the league being what it is this year, it definitely helps us,” Martin said. “But we need to concentrate on what we need to do, and that’s win games.”
In their first meeting with Yale this season, Princeton narrowly escaped 49-47 on a last-second putback. On the flip side, the Elis managed to eke out a 54-52 win against Penn, holding Schiffner to a mere five points. It was defense that kept the Bulldogs in those contests and defense will be the key again for Yale this weekend.
“I think we’re going to be able to score enough points to win,” Gamboa said. “What predicates how well we do is defense. Everything starts with defense.”
Finally, the Elis need some luck. Bad bounces and questionable calls have hurt Yale and could be the difference between 4-4 and 7-1.
Although the odds are stacked against them, the Bulldogs try to remain optimistic.
“We definitely can do it,” Martin said. “It doesn’t look good, but we always have that hope.”
And even if those chances are none, the Elis still have plenty reasons to play.
“We’re playing for pride,” Gamboa said. “We only have six games left and for the seniors, this is it. You never want to lose. You always want to win, regardless of what’s at stake.”