Consistent at being inconsistent seems to be the reigning theme for women’s basketball.
Another weekend playing Penn (5-21, 2-9 Ivy) and Princeton (7-20, 4-7) again ended in mixed emotions for the Bulldogs (8-17, 6-6). The Elis defeated the Quakers on Friday, 79-70, winning their third Ivy League road game of the season. But the Tigers were victorious the next night, winning 64-59. Even with that loss, the Bulldogs moved up into a tie for fourth in the Ancient Eight with Columbia (9-17, 6-6), with two games left to play
The weekend split came with a distinguishing difference. At home two weeks earlier, the Elis blew out Princeton, 78-57, before allowing a 75-67 comeback-Penn win the next night. Though the victors changed, the on-court results were remarkably similar for the Bulldogs.
The Elis’ visit to the Palestra offered another chance for Yale to build on its road success this season with wins already posted at Brown and Columbia. Coming off a breakout performance at home against the Lions the prior Saturday, the Bulldogs looked to build on the momentum of their best shooting performance of the season.
“I think the intensity we brought to the Columbia game definitely made an impact on how we played Friday,” forward Mady Gobrecht ’11 said. “Although we were not as in control of the game as we were against Columbia, I believe last Saturday’s game helped us realize how we needed to play in order to win.”
That momentum was stopped early by the Quakers, though, as Penn raced to a 10-2 lead less than five minutes into the game. But the Bulldogs soon got back on track, using their own 10-2 run to tie up the score with 11:08 left in the first half. From there, it was a see-saw battle that ended with the Quakers up by one at the end of the first half.
The second half has been kind to the Elis throughout the season, with the notable exception of their previous game against Penn, where the Bulldogs turned a nine-point second-half lead into an eight-point loss. Several players explained that the Elis were eager to reassert their second-half strength this time against Penn.
“Penn never should have beaten us last time and we weren’t going to let that happen again,” guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 said.
With the game tied at 51-51 and 10:20 left, the Bulldogs went on another 10-2 run that saw them take control of the game. Although the Quakers briefly came within three points minutes later, the Elis pushed Penn back with layups by forward Haywood Wright ’10 and Gobrecht. The final minutes saw the Bulldogs ice the game with free-throw shooting by Wright, forward Melissa Colborne ’10 and guard Stephanie Marciano ’08.
The difference between the Elis’ win against Penn and their loss to the Quakers two weeks prior was fully visible. In the loss, the Bulldogs managed only 28 percent shooting in the second half, allowing Penn to shoot 55.2 percent in that half. On Friday, the Elis improved to 51.7 percent in the second half while holding Penn to a lower 46.7 percent.
With the possibility of a winning Ivy League road record, and riding a two-game winning streak, the Elis unexpectedly turned in a performance against Princeton that mirrored their baffling loss to Penn earlier in the season.
Like that Penn loss, the Bulldogs took control of the game early, opening up a 26-16 lead with 5:24 left to play in the first half. The start was fueled by Colborne, who continued her recent tear of great play. Colborne scored 18 of the Elis’ 28 first-half points in one of her most dominant displays of the season. Overall, Colborne averaged 21 points per game for the weekend.
Colborne’s offensive explosion in the game contrasted with the lack of scoring production from her rival for Ivy League’s top scorer, Princeton’s Meagan Cowher. Last time out against the Elis, Cowher scored 17 points, right at her average for the season. The Bulldog defense was able to effectively contain her this time, though, limiting Cowher to eight points on 3-12 shooting.
“I think our post defense definitely realized that, if she was to catch the ball and if we did not pressure her, she was going to score,” Gobrecht said. “We worked hard inside and everyone contributed to her scoring so few points.”
The Bulldogs allowed the Tigers to close the gap on an 11-2 run, though, to finish the half behind by only one. The Elis regained their large lead to begin the second half on a 10-2 run — a theme for the weekend — a little less than three minutes into the half, a run which included 3-pointers by Van Horne and Marciano.
But Princeton would not simply go away and fought back to a 48-48 tie with 9:11 left to play. It was then the Tigers’ turn to surge ahead as the Bulldogs continued to struggle. The Elis regained their composure and tied the game at 56 with 2:02 left to play.
Missed opportunities and mismanagement would define these two minutes for the Bulldogs. Starting out, Princeton’s Shelbie Pool came off a screen and nailed a three to put the Tigers up. Colborne was then fouled on the Elis’ possession, but missed both free throws, which matched her second-half struggles, with only two points scored after her strong first half. The Bulldogs later turned the ball over when an ambiguous substitution buzzer led to the Elis passing the ball back to the in-bounder — resulting in a turnover. A second three by Pool seconds later sealed the Bulldogs defeat.
The five-point defeat was the Bulldogs’ closest Ivy League game this season, and closest game overall since their two-point loss at Boston College on Jan. 13. In a feast-or-famine season of Ancient Eight play, Bulldogs disagreed with the notion that the lack of experience in close games had factored into their struggles.
“I wouldn’t say we were rusty, but we did make mistakes down the stretch that you can’t make if you want to win games against good teams,” Van Horne said.
The loss was a surprising result considering the ease of the 21-point victory over Princeton two weeks ago. While the Bulldogs have made great strides in improving their road play, defeat reiterates the need for consistency.
“I think fatigue may have played a role [against Princeton],” forward Lindsey Williams ’11 said. “We faced a tough, determined Princeton team that was very energized on their senior night.”
As the Elis wrap up their season at home against Dartmouth and Harvard, there are still many positives to draw from this season. Their second-half successes have shown they can compete with any team in the Ivy League. If they can extend those types of performances throughout the game, more wins should only follow, possibly starting this weekend against the Big Green and Crimson.
“I think, with every single game, we have improved on one aspect,” Williams said. “We still haven’t gotten that total package together yet, and that is something to work on for this weekend and next year.”