In a weekend that could make or break its season, the women’s basketball team will have to overcome its difficulties playing on the road when the Bulldogs take on the top two teams in the Ivy League.
Yale (11-11, 4-4 Ivy) will head up to Hanover, N.H., to take the floor against conference runner-up Dartmouth (11-10, 5-2) tonight at 7 p.m., beginning the first of two weekends on the road. Then the Elis will travel to more hostile territory tomorrow at 7 p.m. for a match against Harvard (8-12, 6-1), a squad that has won its past five games en route to claiming the top spot in the Ancient Eight.
In their last game, it took most of the opening stanza for the Elis to adjust to their opponents’ fast-paced guard play. To prepare for the speedy Big Green, the Bulldogs have been working on their transition defense, center Erica Davis ’07 said.
Dartmouth leads the league in points allowed, only giving up 62 per game. A good portion of the squad’s success comes from its tendency to collapse inside when the ball is played to the posts, but Davis said the Elis will continue to feed the ball inside.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed is that it’s a lot easier to get the ball in from the top, not the wings, because they leave the guards open when they triple team the posts,” she said. “The post players just have to work on not dribbling inside.”
On the other end of the floor, Dartmouth also features an efficient long ball shooter in guard Koren Schram, whose .380 percentage shooting from beyond the arc is the best on the team and fifth in the conference. The Big Green also benefits from forward Ashley Taylor’s 18 points per game and her aggressiveness on offense. Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said the Elis will need to watch their fouls tonight because of Taylor’s tendency to throw herself at the basket.
The Elis’ previous win and knowledge of Dartmouth’s quick, aggressive style of play may help them record their first win away from John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“Dartmouth is a very potent offensive team,” Gobrecht said. “That’s always been their M.O. That’s how they get it done. They’re very aggressive offensively and they don’t ever let up on you … It’s hard to prepare for, but we just have to be mindful of it and have a sense of urgency in our play.”
Harvard will be another challenge the Bulldogs will have to face this weekend to maintain some hope of a conference title. The Crimson have been on a tear recently, outrebounding their last eight opponents and going on a five-game winning streak — their longest since the 2004-’05 season. The Cantabs have averaged a 22 point winning margin in their last five games, once winning by as many as 31 points.
The most recent meeting of these rival squads became an intense physical battle that saw great shooting from Cantab guards Emily Tay and Lindsay Hallion. But guard Stephanie Marciano’s ’08 long game kept pace with the Crimson and was a huge factor in the win, just one of the similarities between the archrivals.
“We’re one of the few teams that can physically match up with [Harvard],” Gobrecht said. “Our style of D is something that gives them problems, and we can board with them.”
The Harvard guards’ effective shooting will be something the Bulldogs will have to watch out for, but the Crimson’s strength is against the boards. The squad is the runner up to the Elis for offensive rebounds and ranks fourth for defensive boards in Ivy League standings.
Guard Niki Finelli — who also leads Harvard in three-pointers — is the Cantabs’ most dangerous offensive rebounder. Her ability to get possessions will likely pose a problem for an Eli squad that may have trouble holding on to the ball on offense, as captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07 is on restricted duty this weekend because of a broken toe.
The Elis will try to prevent Harvard from getting rebounds and will attempt to be more effective on offense, guard Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 said.
“We need to get back [on defense] and keep them off the boards as much as possible,” she said. “We understand their game this time around a little better.”
Despite Dartmouth and Harvard’s league-leading performances over the past few weeks, the Bulldogs have defeated these squads before. The challenge this weekend will be doing it again on the road.