As the saying goes, “Better late than never.”
Nothing could be truer for the women’s basketball team, as the Bulldogs played some of their best basketball of the season this past weekend with four games remaining on the schedule.
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The Elis (7-16, 5-5 Ivy) split a pair against first-place Cornell (17-6, 9-1) and fourth-place Columbia (9-15, 6-4), losing, 74-64, to the Big Red on Friday before taming the Lions, 76-59, the next night. The Bulldogs cured their shooting struggles, netting two of their three highest shooting-percentage games this season. Leading the way in that effort was forward Melissa Colborne ’10, who averaged 21 points on 72.7 percent shooting.
Cornell came into New Haven on Friday riding a six-game win streak, firmly in the driver’s seat in the race for the Ivy League title. The Big Red had just defeated second-place Harvard (15-9, 8-2) by 24 at home, which made the Bulldogs’ eight-point loss in Ithaca three weeks prior all the more impressive.
That game, on Feb. 2, saw the Elis down only one after the first half, before a second-half shooting slump by the Bulldogs allowed the Big Red to pull away.
Coming off a stunning loss against seventh-place Penn, most prognosticators would have expected the Elis to put up little fight against the cream of the Ivy League crop in Cornell. Early on, those predictions appeared to be coming true, as the Big Red broke a 12-12 tie at the 11:58 mark in the first half and turned in a 12-2 run over the next three-and-a-half minutes to separate themselves from the Bulldogs.
Things only got worse from there as the Cornell lead ballooned to as much as 16 points before the Elis cut it down to 11 at the end of the half. The main culprit again was the Bulldog defense, ranked last in the Ivy League in both scoring and field-goal defense, which allowed the Big Red to shoot a sizzling 57.7 percent in the first half.
The second half has been Bulldog Time for the women’s basketball team this Ivy League season, however, and Friday’s game proved no different. The Elis’ previous best turnaround was seen in narrowing a 22-point margin down to seven at Dartmouth; Cornell would soon find out firsthand that no lead was safe against the Bulldogs.
The Big Red came out firing to begin the second half, with a 13-4 run over the first five minutes to set the score at 51-31. At that low point, something changed for the Bulldogs, and the momentum shifted in favor of the home team.
“In the first half, we just didn’t have the defensive intensity to match Cornell’s offense,” guard Katelynn Clement ’11 said. “Coming out for the second half, we knew we had to dig down defensively on every possession. Once we did that, the turnovers, fast breaks and hot shooting fell into place.”
In over a little more than 10 minutes, the Elis came roaring back to turn a 20-point game into only a two-point deficit, 60-58, with 4:41 left in the game. The Bulldogs’ epic 18-point swing was fueled by 12 Colborne points and seven trips to the free-throw line for Eli players. In addition, the Bulldog defense forced six Cornell turnovers during the Eli 27-9 run.
With the possible upset in sight, Cornell forward Jeomi Maduka stepped up and showed everyone why she is the frontrunner for Ivy League MVP. Stopping the Bulldog run by herself, Maduka scored five points in a row to change a close three-point game into an eight-point contest with 2:14 left — a margin that the Elis could not surmount.
“Maduka is extremely athletic, and she was able to make shots big shots for her team at the end of the game,” Yale forward Haywood Wright ’10 said. “It was no surprise that they were trying to get her the ball down the stretch, and she unfortunately came through for them.”
Although the game ended in defeat, the strong second-half performance by the Bulldogs against the class of the Ancient Eight demonstrated significant improvement for the team. This improvement was on full display against Columbia on Saturday.
From the start, it was all Elis, as the Bulldogs opened the game on a 11-2 run before Columbia coach Paul Nixon called a timeout at 16:47 to stop the bleeding. The Eli lead would continue to grow, though, reaching as much as 17 points in the first half. The Bulldog defense was at its best this season during the half, holding the Lions to 6-25 shooting.
“We were all annoyed about the Cornell game because we felt like if we had just played our best the whole game, it might have ended differently,” Wright said. “I think we carried that intensity over into Saturday.”
The second half was more of the same for the Elis, as Columbia never threatened the lead. The game saw four Elis finish in double figures, including the freshman front-court duo of forward Mady Gobrecht ’11 and forward Lindsey Williams ’11, with 10 and 15 points, respectively. Guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 added four threes for the Bulldogs, while Wright had a season-high five blocked shots.
The weekend belonged to Colborne, however, as she turned in her second-straight 8-11 shooting performance and ignited the Eli offensive surge.
“She was very strong every time she got the ball near the rim and made some tough finishes both nights,” Clement said. “We could feed the ball to Mel in the paint, knowing that she would do something good with it: either score, draw a foul or make a nice kick [out] to a shooter.”
The Bulldogs now sit fifth in the Ivy League standings after the weekend, one game behind fourth-place Columbia. Although they have been eliminated from the title hunt, the Elis look to finish the season strong, starting with a road trip this weekend against Princeton and Penn.
“We played really well as a team on Saturday, and we hope to continue this trend in our remaining four games,” Colborne said. “We are not looking at these games any differently than any other game. We want to keep improving and, above all, win.”