The men’s basketball team has not had back-to-back winning seasons since the 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 seasons. This weekend, the Elis (12-13, 6-6 Ivy) travel to Dartmouth (8-17, 4-8) and Harvard (12-13, 4-8) to end this drought.
“We have three seniors on the team, and we’d like to send them out in a winning way. We have the opportunity to have a winning record for the season,” guard Matt Minoff ’04 said. “That would give us two winning seasons in a row, and that’s something we haven’t had in a long time.”
This weekend will undoubtedly be an emotional one for Yale’s seniors: captain Chris Leanza ’03, forward Ime Archibong ’03, and center T.J. McHugh ’03. With Yale out of the running for a second consecutive postseason appearance, this weekend will be the last time the Eli veterans play in a Yale uniform.
“A lot of people have been asking me that, but it hasn’t exactly sunk in yet,” McHugh said. “I’m excited about this weekend, and I want us to do what we can to be successful. Maybe after this weekend it will finally hit me.”
For Leanza, this weekend will be one of both loss and opportunity. The Yale point guard is only 19 points shy of becoming just the 18th player in school history to tally 1,000 career points. Leanza is averaging 9.0 points per game this season and scored 19 points last week against Princeton and University of Pennsylvania.
“I try to not let that bother me,” Leanza said. “All I want to do is concentrate on winning. If I get [the 1,000 career points], great. But I’m not going to let that effect the way I play. I would be much happier that we win these two games than if I surpassed the 1,000 point mark in my next game.”
Leanza and his Bulldogs cannot underestimate their competition this weekend. Harvard, Yale’s first opponent of the weekend, has been 13-3 in the final weekend of play the past eight years.
Harvard is also doing well in several statistical columns this season. The Crimson is currently second in the league in scoring offense and 3-point percentage. More importantly, the Cantabs lead the league in offensive rebounds. Last weekend against Pennsylvania, second chance baskets by the Quakers buried Yale’s hopes of a comeback victory.
“Last week against Penn, if we had blocked out better a couple of times late in the game, then there would have been a different outcome to that game,” Yale head coach James Jones said.
The last time Yale met its Cambridge rival, Harvard point guard Elliot Prasse-Freeman’s sharpshooting threatened to put the lights out at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Prasse-Freeman canned six-for-seven from 3-point range and seven-for-eight overall in the first half. Despite the Prasse-Freeman shooting clinic, Yale does not plan to add additional coverage to the Cantab guard.
In addition to the point guard, Harvard also has an inside threat: forward Brady Merchant. Merchant, the Crimson’s leading scorer (14.4 points per game), did not play a large role in the last contest because he had foul trouble early. Yale will need to take Merchant out of commission again if it hopes for a win tonight.
A major boon for Yale this time around is the fact that Harvard will not have its star guard Patrick Harvey. Harvey, a First-Team All Ivy selection last season, had to leave the school and the team Feb. 13 because of academic reasons. Harvey was the league’s second leading scorer before leaving the team.
Harvard, like Yale, is fighting desperately for a winning record. The Crimson tallied winning overall records for eight of the last nine seasons. Neither team will want to lose, especially considering the game is televised on the YES network.
“[Harvard has] a bunch of seniors on their team, and they don’t want to lose their last two games just like we don’t want to lose ours,” Jones said. “But regardless of the records, the players don’t need any more motivation than the fact that this is Yale-Harvard. Just the rivalry is enough.”
On Saturday, Yale will close out its 2002-2003 season in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth comes off a pair of road victories over Cornell and Columbia and is shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from 3-point land.
Dartmouth plays a variation of Princeton’s wear-and-tear offense that gave Jones and company headaches last weekend. Yale will need a better defensive effort this weekend if it wants to end the season on a winning note.
“Dartmouth doesn’t have a lot of play-makers,” Jones said. “They have guys that basically catch and shoot. We’re going to force them to do things they are not able to do like shooting off the dribble and the one-on-one stuff.”
The Yale defense must contain Dartmouth forward Charles Harris, who currently leads the Big Green in scoring (12.3 ppg) and rebounding (4.6 rpg). The last time Yale played Dartmouth, Harris paced his team with 13 points.
“This is the eighth time we’ve played them, and we’ve done a good job against him,” Jones said. “Ime [Archibong] does a good job against guys like that, and I don’t see why he can’t do a good job on him this time.”
Despite the importance of this weekend’s games, Jones is quick to caution looking too far down the road.
“You obviously want to win these two games, but as far as next season goes none of that matters,” Jones said. “What really matters is the way we come out and gel at the start of the season.”