Before the start of the season, men’s basketball captain Ime Archibong ’03 was asked about the most crucial part of the Yale schedule. He did not hesitate to name the Elis’ two straight games against Brown.
This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs (10-6, 2-0 Ivy) play the first of back-to-back games against the Bears (11-4, 2-0). Both schools enter the game as title contenders and know that there is little margin for error as they pursue the same goal.
“To play the same team in two weeks — it is going to be an important swing,” Archibong said this week. “It is exciting to have the first game at home. But if we went on the road and got one, we would be even more excited when we got back home.”
The Elis are a perfect 6-0 this season on their home court, and the Bears have struggled somewhat on the road, dropping games at Holy Cross, Maine and Central Connecticut State.
“We feel comfortable at home,” said Alex Gamboa ’05, who expressed slightly less comfort at the thought of taking on the Bears in two straight games. “It is really awkward for me. I have never played a team twice like this back to back in such big games.”
Brown versus Yale is a matchup of similar teams. Both have turned heads with big wins this season, Brown with a victory over in-state rival Providence and Yale with an upset of Clemson. But both have battled inconsistency, losing games they probably should have won.
The teams like high-scoring affairs, ranking as the top two scoring squads in the league. Brown pushes the ball in transition more aggressively than Yale, and that is something the Elis hope to use to their advantage.
“We have to make sure we slow them down a little bit and don’t give them fast break opportunities,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “I think they can be exploited a little bit in transition. We can offensive rebound on them because I don’t think they go to the glass because they are looking to run.”
The Elis are leading the league in rebounding and average over 14 offensive boards per night. But Yale will still need to get back on defense quickly to stymie the efforts of Brown point guards Omari Ware and Jason Forte to run the break. Forte and Ware, who split time at the point, are effectively distributing the basketball, ranking second and fourth in the league in assists, respectively.
The importance of ball handling in the Brown system was evident last year, as the two teams split their season series, with Yale winning 66-61 in New Haven and Brown posting a 90-80 triumph in Providence. Ware got injured in the New Haven game, disrupting Brown’s offense, whereas in Providence, a healthy Ware helped Brown sprint by the Elis as he dished out eight assists.
Yale will also concentrate its defensive effort on Earl Hunt, the league’s leading scorer at 20.7 points per game, an assignment that will primarily fall to Archibong and Matt Minoff ’04. The Bulldogs effectively contained the explosive Hunt last year, holding him well below his season average in both games.
For Yale, the game plan begins with defense. Last week against Columbia, the Elis came out aggressively with a full-court press, creating turnovers that helped them build an early lead.
“We need to stay focused in terms of our defense. Defense is the key for us,” Gamboa said. “Our offense will always be there.”
Notes: On top of six-straight home wins, the Bulldogs will also look to extend two other streaks. A win Saturday night would give the Elis a 3-0 start in league play for the third straight season. Also, the game is the nightcap of the fourth men’s and women’s doubleheader this year, and so far the teams have combined for a 6-0 record — Mark Lovett ’05, out with a foot injury, could return this weekend — Archibong was held out of practice early this weeks as he rested his injured ankles, but should play this weekend.