The fate of the women’s basketball team is in its own hands.
Currently third in the Ancient Eight, a strong showing this weekend will keep the squad in the thick of the Ivy title race. But a let-down by the Bulldogs on their crucial road trip to Pennsylvania and Princeton could make the rest of the season a steep uphill climb for a championship. Yale (10-9, 3-3 Ivy) travels south this weekend to take on the Quakers (6-12, 2-3 Ivy) and the Tigers (8-10, 2-3 Ivy), two teams that have struggled as of late. The Elis are coming off an impressive homestand in which they defeated Dartmouth and narrowly lost to second-place Harvard.
“Our team goal is to sweep this weekend in order to stay in the Ivy race,” Bonnie Smith ’04 said. “We’re pretty excited to come back, especially after our close Harvard loss, and prove that we can win two games in a row.”
Although Penn is the reigning Ivy League champion, the loss of five strong seniors has significantly hurt the team’s drive for a repeat. The Quakers split their games last weekend, falling to Cornell by 16 points before returning the next night to beat Columbia in overtime.
“They’re a completely different team than they were last year,” Yale head coach Amy Backus said. “Last year, they relied on five players and those five players played the majority of minutes to go undefeated in the league. [This year] they’ve really struggled to play well together.”
Sophomore Jewel Clark has been the most effective player for the Quakers this season. Averaging 16.2 points per game and a league-leading 9.8 rebounds per game, Clark is always a threat from the backcourt. But Clark often does not get the help she needs from her supporting cast. Penn is currently sixth in the league in scoring offense and last in defensive rebounding.
“We’ll be able to use our depth,” Backus said. “Our zone will be very effective against them because they are not a strong outside-shooting team.”
Since stunning Harvard with a four-point victory on Jan. 11, Princeton has dropped its last four games. With only one senior and a first-year head coach in Richard Barron, the Tigers have yet to hit their stride.
“We should be able to dominate the inside game,” Backus said. “They’re small and they play a five-out spread offense. I think we’re going to be able to really look to get the ball inside — they are not an exceptionally great defensive team against penetration.”
Yale will most likely turn to captain Meg Simpson ’02 to dominate play in the paint. Simpson had two monster games on the boards last weekend, grabbing 14 rebounds against Dartmouth and 15 against Harvard. She also added 17 points against the Big Green, earning her a spot on the Ivy League Honor Roll.
As has been the case all season, the Bulldogs will have to focus on playing consistent basketball for all 40 minutes. Backus said she was impressed with her team’s intensity against both the Big Green and the Crimson, and hopes the momentum will carry over to this weekend’s road games.
The Harvard game also demonstrated the need to stay calm in pressure situations. With the Crimson up by one with under six minutes to play, key Yale misses from the charity stripe helped seal the victory for the visiting team from Cambridge.
“We haven’t shown up in some late-game situations in a couple games this year,” Caitlin Bair ’02 said. “When teams are so evenly matched we really need to be able to think on our feet. We need to go in with the confidence that we will make that final foul shot or make that pass that leads to the two points that win the game.”