The men’s basketball team continued its magical run last night with a convincing 76-60 win over Princeton in an emotionally charged Ivy League playoff game at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
The victory means the upstart Bulldogs are now just a win away from their first NCAA tournament berth in 40 years. But standing between Yale and a date at the “Big Dance,” is the University of Pennsylvania, historically one of Yale’s greatest nemeses.
Penn may play in shadows of Ivy championship banners, but the Bulldogs’ greatest strength throughout the season has been their stubborn distaste for history. The defiant attitude starts at the top with fiery head coach James Jones — who has remarkably turned a 4-22 team into an Ivy League champion in just three years — and continues throughout a team that boasts neither a senior nor a bona fide superstar.
The victory over Princeton was Yale’s 20th of the season, a total the Bulldogs haven’t reached since they won 22 in 1949 — the year of their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. Yale has already claimed its first Ivy League championship since 1962, and the Elis’ share of this year’s crown represents the first time a team other than Penn or Princeton has won the league since 1989.
Knowing these Bulldogs and their brash coach, nothing short of a win Saturday and a ticket to the tournament will be a satisfactory outcome in a season that has already exceeded all expectations.
But regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, this has been a season no one at Yale will soon forget. On the court, we’ll remember a tough team that relied on a different player each game to turn in a standout performance. There is perhaps no better example of the team’s remarkable depth than its performance last weekend against Dartmouth, when it lost Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gamboa ’05 in the opening minutes of the game and responded with a 39-point rout that eventually clinched a share of the title.
But as many records as it has shattered during its improbable championship season, this team’s legacy might be instead what it has accomplished off the hardwood. One has to go back to the miracle season of the 1997-98 ECAC champion men’s hockey team to find a time when the campus rallied around athletics like it has this year.
The scene a month ago at the John J. Lee Amphitheater when Yale pulled off back-to-back wins over Princeton and Penn was a kind of pandemonium rarely displayed by Yalies at any time. Now, the chance to pull off another sweep of Princeton and Penn — this time with more on the line — has ignited the collective passion of the Yale community in a way only sports can. For that, we can all be thankful.
We wish the men’s basketball team good luck for as long as their season lasts. We hope it will be a while.