Back home, Elis look to clear .500

With the arrival of two recent Ivy League champion teams to New Haven, the women’s basketball team is set to begin a weekend of intense matchups.

The three squads playing at Payne Whitney this weekend are knotted at third in the conference standings, and Yale will tip off against Harvard tonight at 7 p.m. and Dartmouth tomorrow at 7 p.m. for just the third weekend of Ancient Eight competition. Brown snapped the Bulldogs’ lengthy winning streak last weekend, but the Elis are excited to square off in front of a large home crowd for the first time this semester.

The Elis worked on their defense this week in practice after a breakdown in Providence opened the door for a late comeback by the Bears. The players geared up to steer their efforts in a fresh direction in anticipation of this weekend’s matchups, guard Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 said.

“[The loss] was definitely disappointing, but it has refocused us in practice because we have a new goal,” she said. “Now we just want to take it one game at a time.”

The Bulldogs’ poor transitional defense and presence under the boards was only compounded by the loss of captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07, who was sidelined with an injury, though she has been training with the team this week. Despite the slight downer last weekend, the Elis are still in the midst of one of their finest starts in years and are playing .500 ball for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Led by guard Jamie Van Horne ’09, the Yale squad has found its stride in shooting from outside the arc and drastically increased its free throw efficiency in early conference play.

Harvard, a formidable force in the Ancient Eight, leads the Ivies in field goal percentage (.432) and sophomore guard Emily Tay is tops in the conference with 5.14 assists per game. But no single player in the Crimson offense really stands out, as Tay heads her team with only 181 points, paling in comparison to Yale center Erica Davis’s ’07 244. The Cantabs’ top rebounder also falls more than 40 boards behind Davis.

The Elis, however, are hardly going to overlook the Crimson, as tonight’s visitors will be strong on the post, similar to Brown in the Bulldogs’ latest defeat.

“We had a good week at practice,” Van Horne said. “And I think we all know that these are two good teams and two really important teams. People are going to be looking to beat us, and it helps us to know that we can beat them.”

The Dartmouth squad, which has defeated Yale in the last four meetings, finds its strength in shots from the charity stripe as well as in three-pointers. With consistent contributions from senior guard Ashley Taylor — coming off a career-high 22-point game — and sophomore guard Korem Schram, the Bulldogs may have a difficult time hosting the Big Green. Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said Dartmouth plays a faster game than Harvard, ensuring that the Yale faithful will see two very different styles of games at Lee Amphitheater this weekend.

The Bulldogs will face with quality opponents, but they have proven themselves as contenders in the Ivy League with powerful team stats and a consistent emphasis on an effective defense. Both Harvard and Dartmouth may be at a disadvantage to the Elis as well because both visiting squads lack real centers. Yale boasts Davis, whose overpowering rebounding and team-high scoring figures may make the difference this weekend.

“We’re just trying to get our edge back,” Gobrecht said. “We need to be sure we’re doing the things important to our game: defending and rebounding and playing a fast, aggressive game. We sort of drifted away from that [at Brown].”

Though the Bulldogs have had no success against either team since 2004, this year’s squad has made it clear that the image of Yale women’s basketball has changed. Gobrecht said the Elis know they are not the same disappointing team from last year and that now, the women know how to play together and how to win.

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