With three weeks to go in the season, it’s crunch time for the women’s basketball team.
Yale (11-10, 4-4 Ivy) is currently tied for fourth place in the Ancient Eight. While a championship is still mathematically possible, the team certainly faces an uphill climb. The Bulldogs must win all of their remaining six games. In addition, Yale must rely on other squads to defeat Harvard, Cornell and Penn, all of which lie above the Elis in the standings.
The Bulldogs begin this crucial stretch of games tonight when Cornell (12-9, 6-2 Ivy) makes the long trip from Ithaca to New Haven. Saturday, Columbia (10-10, 4-4 Ivy) comes calling to Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
In the first weekend of Ivy play, the Bulldogs dominated the Lions 66-53, but then fell to the Big Red the following night, 64-62. Yale is coming off a split at Penn and Princeton last weekend, with the team dropping a game to Penn before defeating Princeton in overtime.
“We got down by 17 at the half [against Cornell], so we definitely just want to come out playing really strong right away in the first half,” Christina Phillips’04 said. “We played well against Columbia. But it’s tough to beat a team twice.”
Cornell, currently in second place in the Ivy League, is having its best season ever under head coach Marnie Dacko. The Big Red’s only two conference losses came at the hands of Columbia and Harvard. Last weekend in Cambridge, the first-place Crimson narrowly defeated Cornell, 64-58.
“They’re a solid club,” Yale head coach Amy Backus said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. [However,] they’re vulnerable, having gone to Harvard and taken a loss.”
In the teams’ first meeting, the Bulldogs had a hard time breaking Cornell’s half-court trapping press. As a result, the squad shot just 38.1 percent from the field.
Cornell’s guards are strong on the penetration, and keeping the Big Red from getting second shots will be key to stopping their offensive flow.
Thus, the Bulldogs must maintain the rebounding edge they had against the Big Red in Ithaca. In that game, the Elis grabbed eight more boards than Cornell.
“We’ve got to really work on our rebounding,” Dacko said. “[Yale is] a strong rebounding team and they move the ball really well. They have a nice inside-outside game and they handle the ball well.”
As for Columbia, the Bulldogs have already proven once that they can defeat the Lions, but overconfidence has hurt Yale in the past. After defeating Brown by 19 points at home, the Bulldogs traveled to Providence the following weekend and suffered a 16-point loss.
“We have to guard against feeling too confident,” Backus said. “Columbia is getting some much improved playing from a couple of freshmen. They are a team that relies a lot on their outside shooting, but they’re getting some good minutes from [Edytte] Key in the post.”
The Lions will come to the John J. Lee Amphitheater sporting a different lineup than the Elis saw in their conference opener. The 6-4 Key, who is averaging 20.3 minutes, leads the Lions in rebounding with 6.7 grabs per game and is tied with fellow freshman Susan Kern for leading scorer with 9.4 points per game.
“Hopefully, [we’ll use] our size advantage to maximize some paint-scoring production,” Columbia head coach Jay Butler said. “Defensively, we’re going to try to throw some new defensive strategies against them to try to get them out of the flow a little bit. They did a very good job last time attacking our defensives. It’s going to be our responsibility to put the pressure back on them and attack them from a defensive point of view.”