Toward the end of each season, some teams play for pride, some teams play for revenge and some teams play for a chance at an Ivy League championship. For the first time in years, Yale will be playing for all of the above as it enters the final stretch.
After winning 10 of its last 13 games and jumping out to its best Ivy start since 2002, the men’s basketball team (12-11, 8-2 Ivy) has left behind the relative mediocrity of the past few years and currently sits just a half game behind Penn for the top spot in the league. The Bulldogs will have the opportunity to catch Penn and avenge their only loss in the past eight games — a heartbreaking one-point defeat at the hands of Cornell (14-10, 7-3) — when the Big Red roll into town tonight.
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The Elis want to reverse the outcome of their last meeting with Cornell, but tomorrow they would like nothing more than to repeat their previous performance against Columbia (13-11, 4-6). Yale displayed some of its most explosive and efficient offensive play this season, connecting on a torrid 78 percent of its second-half field goal attempts, when it downed the Lions on their home turf just two weeks ago.
With so much at stake this weekend and the possibility that all three seniors will be out with injuries again, the Bulldogs will be looking to find alternative sources of leadership and energy, as they did last week.
“We’ve done a good job with the seniors out,” head coach James Jones said. “A new guy steps up every day. They’ve been doing it all year and we’re ready to go this weekend.”
Forward Ross Morin ’09 played perhaps the finest and most effective basketball of his young career last weekend, averaging 17 points, 6.5 rebounds and 73.3 percent shooting from the floor to lead Yale to its third weekend sweep in the past month. Forward Travis Pinick ’09 helped mitigate the effects of the Elis’ depleted frontline with a superb all-around performance against Harvard, using his contagious energy to catalyze Yale’s second-half trouncing of the Crimson. Pinick made the most of his 20 minutes of play, scoring 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting. He also added five rebounds and seven assists.
“It was a rivalry game,” Morin said. “They wanted to win just as bad as we did. Luckily, we were able to come away with the win.”
The two visitors have lost a combined 11 straight games in New Haven, and the Elis appear hungry to extend that streak this weekend. The last time Yale squared off against Cornell two weeks ago, it held the top spot in the league and was riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak; both distinctions came to an end with the loss in Ithaca. The Bulldogs got off to a slow start in that game, trailing by 15 points in the first half, but clawed their way back to take a one-point lead with just over a minute left to play. Six-time Rookie of the Week Ryan Wittman nailed two foul shots with 32 seconds left to play to give the Big Red the victory, 60-59. Yale will have to contend with numerous young talents on the Cornell squad tonight, including guard Louis Dale and forward Alex Tyler, both of whom have also been awarded with Rookie of the Week honors.
The Bulldogs found themselves trailing at halftime during the Columbia game as well, but drilled 14 of their 18 shot attempts in the second half and exploded for an 18-0 run over a four-minute period to put the game away. Point guard Eric Flato ’08 posted a career-high 26 points, with 6-for-13 from the field and 10-of-11 at the line, earning Player of the Week honors for his efforts. Guard Caleb Holmes ’08 also had a career game, registering 20 points and collecting six rebounds by the end of the night.
“It’s definitely a little different playing teams the second time around,” Flato said. “We beat them up at their place, and they’re going to be looking to do the same here.”
Yale’s night of hot shooting appears to be an anomaly for the Lions, who are second in the league in field goal percentage defense, allowing a miserly 43.6 percent from the field. The Bulldogs will have to work hard if they hope for similar offensive production this time around. Columbia also leads the league in three-point field goal defense percentage and has a number of offensive weapons, including forward John Baumann, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding, registering just under 13 points and 6.8 boards an outing.
Forward Casey Hughes ’07, who went down with an injury last weekend, remains day-to-day, and it is still uncertain whether he will play this weekend. The seniors will be honored against Columbia on Saturday, the Elis’ final home game of the 2006-’07 campaign.