When Brown comes to town Friday, much more than just one game could be at stake for the men’s basketball team.
In their Ivy League season-opener, the Bulldogs will face the only team that came away with a win at the John J. Lee Amphitheater last season, a game that eventually kept Yale from an outright Ivy League Championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We felt we let one slip away with that loss,” captain Chris Leanza ’03 said. “We can’t do that [this year]. We have to start off the year and the Ivy League season defending our home court.”
With all the hoopla that surrounded last season’s impressive victories, the loss to Brown was one game easily forgotten. Forward Paul Vitelli ’04, who averaged a double-double against the Bears last season, hopes to keep it that way.
“It’s not about revenge,” Vitelli said. “We don’t look back on losses like that. We learn from them and move on.”
Friday’s game will be the first of two games against the Bears that will begin the Bulldogs’ play in the Ancient Eight. The Elis will travel to Providence on Jan. 24 for the second contest. Although Yale has been picked in many polls to finish ahead of Brown, the Bulldogs do not plan to underestimate their first Ivy opponent.
“Brown is always never predicted to be high in the rankings, but can jump up and bite you,” Vitelli said. “If you don’t come to play, they could win any game.”
Both games between the two teams last year came down to the wire. The Bears won 87-82 in New Haven before the Elis returned the favor the next week in Providence, beating Brown 80-77 down the stretch. There is little reason to expect things to be different this year; both teams return all starters from last season.
“They still have some great talent on that team,” Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “No matter what, it’s going to be a war.”
The Bears’ starting backcourt of Earl Hunt and Jason Forte combined for 39 points in the Bears’ win here last season, and they are currently averaging a combined 28 points per game. Hunt, who was named last week’s Ivy League Player of the Week, broke Brown’s all-time scoring record two weeks ago and recently scored a career high 39 against Central Connecticut.
But the Bulldogs have their own league-leader in Leanza. Leanza is a perfect 25-for-25 from the free-throw line this season and has helped boost Yale’s free-throw percentage to 75.9 percent, good for first in the Ivy League. Though Brown is not far behind at 71.5 percent, the difference could prove vital in Friday’s match-up.
“That’s one of my jobs as a point guard,” said Leanza of knocking down free throws. “I’ve just been fortunate enough that I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well this year.”
Last season, both teams won on the road thanks to impeccable free-throw shooting. The Bears scorched the nets at Payne Whitney, sinking 39 of 44 free throws only to see the Bulldogs hit 23 of 26 from the line in Providence.
Although Friday’s game will be the league-opener for both teams, Yale and Brown have already faced four of the same non-conference opponents, with nearly the same results. Both teams suffered double-digit losses to the University of Rhode Island and St. Mary’s, and both defeated Central Connecticut. But while the Bulldogs did beat Holy Cross, the Bears lost to the Crusaders by 16.
But once the clock starts ticking on Friday, the teams’ non-conference records will have little consequence.
“We can’t give up any games,” Draughan said. “Especially now that everything we do is magnified in terms of going to the tournament.”