It was a weekend of ups and downs for the women’s basketball team, which suffered a heartbreaking loss to Columbia on Friday but responded emphatically with a 69-58 victory at Cornell the next night.
Through it all, the Elis (16-10, 8-4 Ivy) remained a half-game ahead of Harvard for second place in the Ivy League after the Crimson lost to Princeton Friday night but beat Penn the following evening. The team that finishes the season in second place in the Ivy League receives an automatic spot in the post-season Women’s National Invitational Tournament. Yale has two games remaining on its schedule while the Crimson has three, though the Bulldogs face the first-place Tigers, who have now clinched the Ivy League title and an NCAA Tournament bid, next weekend. Harvard, meanwhile, will face Columbia and Cornell next weekend. The Lions will be looking to play the same spoiler role that they did against Yale on Friday.
Columbia (3-22, 1-10 Ivy) had not won a game since Dec. 30 of last year but played with a surprising confidence and energy against the Bulldogs. The Lions could have rolled over after the Elis scored the first seven points of the game, but they battled back to take a 17-16 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half.
“A lot of things went wrong [Friday night],” guard Sarah Halejian ’15 said. “Our shots weren’t dropping, and coach was pretty upset with our lack of communication on both sides of the ball.”
The Lions aggressively trapped the Bulldogs’ ball handlers as they crossed midcourt, and while the Elis retained their composure and committed few turnovers against the trap, they were unable to capitalize on Columbia’s aggressive defense. Yale passed the ball well and was able to generate open shots, but shot a season-low 23.9 percent from the field, including a 4-22 mark from beyond the arc.
“It was just one of those things that happens sometimes,” head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We could not hit the broad side of a barn. We just could not find the basket, and it was hard to overcome that Friday night.”
The Lions took a six-point lead, their largest of the game, with just under a minute remaining in the first half on guard Taylor Ball’s two free throws, but guard Allie Messimer ’13 cut the deficit to three with a three-pointer 30 seconds later, and the teams went into halftime with Columbia up 28-25.
The two teams battled for the entire second half, but the Lions always had an answer for any challenge from the Bulldogs. The Elis came out of halftime with a 6-2 run to take a 31-30 lead with 17:28 remaining in the game, but Columbia quickly called a timeout, and after the restart Lions’ forward Agata Jankova made a quick jump-shot to put the Lions back on top.
Guard Megan Vasquez ’13 stole the ball and was fouled going for a layup with 15 minutes to play in the game. Her two free throws tied the game up at 35, and a minute and a half later, Halejian twisted into the lane and made a spectacular diving layup to tie the game again at 37. Halejian led the team with 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals, but was the only Bulldog to make more than two shots from the field.
The two teams traded blows for the next 10 minutes, with Yale briefly taking the lead on three straight free throws from forward Alexandra Osborn-Jones ’14, but the Lions quickly answered. Vasquez pulled the Elis to within one with two free throws with 1:40 remaining, but Columbia’s Tyler Simpson sprinted right back down the court for a layup and the Lions lead was back to three.
The Bulldogs had several opportunities to tie the game up from the three-point line and the free throw line, but could not convert them. Yale was eventually forced to foul, and the Lions made one out of two free throws to extend the lead to four and put the game away.
Determined to put Friday’s loss behind them, the Bulldogs dominated Cornell (11-14, 5-6 Ivy) the next night. The Bulldogs scored the first six points of the game, forcing Cornell to call a timeout only three and a half minutes into the game. But the Big Red could not stop the Elis’ momentum, and Yale scored the next five points to go up 11-0 and force the Cornell coach, Dayna Smith, to use another timeout. Captain Michelle Cashen ’12 picked up four points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal in the first five minutes of the game to get her team going. She finished with 12 points and team highs of eight rebounds and five assists.
“We knew as a team that we needed to set the tone early,” Gobrecht said. “Michelle took that to heart and stepped up for us. She showed the kind of leadership that we’ve come to expect from her.”
The Bulldogs coasted to a 34-24 halftime lead and never looked back. The Big Red tried to mount a challenge and pulled within six after guard Taylor Flynn ran off five points in a row, but that was as close as it was going to get.
The Elis close out their season at home next weekend with games against Princeton and Penn.