Ime Archibong ’03 took the ball at the 3-point line, drove to the hoop and elevated for a resounding two-fisted jam.
The buzzer sounded before the captain completed the monstrous dunk, but his timing was perfect in putting an emphatic end to an emphatic weekend in New Haven, where Yale scored its two biggest wins of the season, beating Pennsylvania and Princeton. Yale (15-7, 7-1) used a high powered offense to outduel Pennsylvania (16-6, 3-3) 83-78 and used a suffocating defense to get past Princeton (10-8, 5-1) 60-50. The two wins assured Yale of its first winning season since ’91-92, but the Bulldogs have their sights set higher as they aim for their first outright Ivy League championship in four decades.
At 7-1 in the league, Yale is in first place in the standings. They are tied with 5-1, second place Princeton in the loss column, but a game ahead of them by virtue of having two more conference wins. Harvard sits in third with a 5-3 record, followed by Brown at 4-4 and Penn at 3-3.
“There is no doubt it’s in the back of our minds,” said Paul Vitelli ’04 of Yale’s prospects for an Ivy League title. “You can’t let that blind you.”
With six games left to play, Yale controls its own destiny. But the league championship and the NCAA tournament berth that comes with it is very much up for grabs, as the four teams with three losses or less still have legitimate title hopes.
Coaches preach all the time that teams have to focus on one game at a time. That adage is certainly true this year in the Ivy League, where road wins are tough to come by and any team can beat any team.
“Every night is going to be a war,” Penn head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We have got some good teams [in the league].”
For the Elis, the path to the NCAA Tournament takes to the road for the next four games. The Bulldogs have had considerable success away from New Haven this year, compiling a 6-2 record on the road, including wins at Penn State and Clemson. They are also a perfect 3-0 on the road in league play, the only team in the conference without a road loss.
The road trip begins when the Bulldogs play at Cornell and Columbia this Friday and Saturday, two teams out of the championship race but waiting to trip up a contender. Cornell currently occupies the cellar of the league standings, but knocked off Harvard 63-62 Saturday night. The trip up to Ithaca is one of the most difficult to make, and Yale had some difficulty with the Big Red in New Haven before beating them 79-74.
Columbia came up with what appeared to be a season saving win at Pennsylvania on Feb. 2, avoiding its fourth Ivy League loss. But then the Lions returned to the Levien Gymnasium, where they had been near unbeatable in the last two seasons, and dropped two games to Harvard and Dartmouth.
A sweep against these foes would seem to be a must, as Yale then heads to Princeton and Penn the next weekend, Feb. 22 and Feb. 23. But before the Elis come to town, the Tigers and the Quakers will square off against each other on Tuesday, Feb. 12. The best possible scenario for Yale would be for a Penn win in that showdown, giving the Elis another game on Princeton in the loss column.
Yale plays Princeton on the Friday night of that weekend road trip. Since the Tigers and the Elis are the two front-runners right now, this is probably a good thing, making sure Yale is well-rested for the road game — of course, Princeton will have the same advantage at home.
After the Penn-Princeton road trip, Yale returns home for its final games of the regular season, against Harvard and Dartmouth on Mar. 1 and Mar. 2. Yale topped both of those teams on the road earlier this year, but the Crimson will be gunning for Yale after losing three straight to their arch-rival.
The most difficult thing about Penn and Princeton’s remaining schedule is that they have to play each other twice. Both also still have a date with a potentially dangerous Brown team, whom the Elis have already finished their season series with. The Bears account for Yale’s only league loss.
Conventional wisdom would say the Bulldogs can probably only afford one more loss in order to win an outright title. With Penn and Princeton on the road being their two toughest games remaining, that would be the place to budget it.
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