When the men’s basketball team’s charter bus pulls away from the Payne Whitney Gymnasium today for the Bulldogs’ annual road trip through New York state, the only thing on the minds of the players on board will be redemption.
After dropping the first two games of their Ivy schedule to Brown (7-9, 2-0 Ivy), the Elis (6-9, 0-2) have their sights set on Columbia (2-13, 0-2) and Cornell (7-8, 2-0) to bring them back to .500.
“We know that we had an opportunity to come away with two wins against Brown and we let it slip away from us,” forward Ime Archibong ’03 said. “That’s why its important for us to go out there this weekend and prove ourselves.”
In last weekend’s 94-84 loss to Brown in Providence, R.I., Yale had one of its best starts of the year, jumping off to a 9-2 lead early in the game. But in the end, it was faulty defense that downed the Bulldogs. Brown’s bench came up with 25 points in the first half to give the Bears a 51-36 halftime lead from which Yale never recovered.
“I was satisfied with our offensive output,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “Every time you scored 84 points in a game, you have to be pleased with your offense. But our defense was really lacking, especially our post defense.”
Defense will again be the key this weekend as Yale faces off against two teams with a punishing style of offense. Unlike the run-and-gun, fast-break offense that Yale faced in its last two games against Brown, both Cornell and Columbia have slow, grinding offenses that are designed to wear down their opponents.
“Last year, Cornell and Columbia ran a Princetonian style offense,” Archibong said. “Those teams hold onto the ball for the length of the shot clock. Guarding them for 35 seconds only to have them score on you can be brutal on your mind.”
To prepare the Elis for their trials, the Yale coaches have been advocating a back-to-basics campaign during practice this week.
“On defense, we’re just getting back to the basics,” center T.J. McHugh ’03 said. “We’re getting back to the little things. We’ve been working on forcing people to the baseline, stopping the dribble, and communicating with each other.”
The similarities in their styles of offense are just about the only similarities between Columbia and Cornell. Columbia, Yale’s opponent on Friday evening, has struggled thus far this season, winning only two of its 15 outings. Columbia dropped its first two Ivy games against Cornell and is currently in last place in the Ivy standings.
The Lions’ poor record stems largely from their poor shooting. As a team, Columbia is shooting a paltry 35.5 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. Despite the shooting woes, Columbia has the best scoring defense in the league.
“In the Ivy League, every game is a battle and you have to treat every game that way,” McHugh said. “Just because Columbia may have lost a few games doesn’t mean we’re going to treat them any differently.”
Unlike Columbia, Cornell is on a three-game win streak and is in second place in the league standings. The Big Red has three players averaging double figures — Eric Taylor (14.0 points per game), Cody Toppert (12.4) and Ka’Ron Barnes (12.3). Barnes was selected Player of the Week after averaging 19 points, 5.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds in two victories last week. Lenny Collins was named Rookie of the Week.
“They’re surging and they’ve done a good job up to date,” Jones said. “But they haven’t been truly tested in the league because they’ve played some teams that are not particularly strong. They certainly have some things that they need to work on but they are a really good team and it’s going to be a competitive game.”
To pull even, Yale will need a repeat performance from guard Matt Minoff ’04, who had 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field against Brown last Friday. This weekend guard Scott Gaffield ’04 will be out with an ankle injury and Mark Lovett ’04 will be playing reduced minutes because of an aggravation in his knee on which he had surgery done this past off-season. With the Elis shorthanded, Minoff’s contribution will be critical.
“Matt [Minoff] is a really versatile player,” Jones said. “He can play a number of positions and other than the point guard position he has been called on to guard every other position. He’s used his versatility to really help out the team and this weekend we will be looking to him for some more minutes.”
Despite early stumbles, Yale is optimistic of its chances this weekend.
“We’re disappointed with our performance against Brown,” McHugh said. “But we’ve been doing a better job of funneling that frustration into some positive energy. We’ve had a great week of practice and everyone is feeling real good about this weekend.”