Little did the women’s basketball team know that last season’s early 77-73 loss to Quinnipiac would set the tone for a number of close defeats throughout Ivy League play.

In their first game this season — a Friday night rematch against the in-state rival Bobcats — the Bulldogs can demonstrate their determination to avoid last season’s fate, when the Elis finished with a 6-21 overall record and fell to last place in the Ancient Eight with a 3-11 conference record.

“Everyone is coming with a drive to not let last year repeat itself,” forward Lindsay Page ’05 said.

Quinnipiac, on the other hand, will look to repeat its success from last season when it comes to the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday. The Bobcats finished second in the Northeastern Conference in 2003 and return the NEC Player of the Year, forward/center Ashlee Kelly.

“We see it as a good game against a cross-town rival,” forward Christina Phillips ’04 said.

Yale’s final games last spring, two close losses against the top two Ivy League teams — Harvard and Dartmouth — gave an indication of the team’s talent, but also its inability to close out opponents down the stretch.

“One of the things our team needs to improve on is our confidence,” Page said. “The more and more we’d lose those close games, the more unsure we would be.”

In an exhibition game last Sunday against UBBC Herzogenburg-Austria, the Bulldogs played with greater confidence and consistency, maintaining a 14-point halftime lead to win 70-55.

Yale head coach Amy Backus said she was impressed with the performances of Erica Davis ’07 and Morgan Richards ’05. The duo had team highs with 12 points a piece and combined for 17 rebounds. Davis, a six-foot-three center, also had a game-high three blocks.

“Erica Davis did some nice things for a freshman,” Backus said.

Although Yale returns 10 players from last year, Davis is one of several freshmen expected to see action regularly.

“There are going to be freshmen who are going to see playing time,” Backus said.

But Backus still has high expectations for the returning upperclassmen, especially Richards, a starter at shooting guard.

“We’re looking for Morgan Richards to be a consistent player,” Backus said. “She had a really good year last year, but it was like a freshman year [because she was injured during her actual freshman season]. Our expectation for Morgan this year is to be the consistent player we know she can be in big games.”

Bonnie Smith ’04 also returns at small forward after leading the Bulldogs in scoring last season with 12.3 points per game.

Smith and Phillips both earned All-Ivy honorable mention honors last season.

Phillips extended the opposing defense with her deep shooting range as center last season, but the six-foot-one senior will be able to move to her natural power forward position thanks to the freshman class’ height.

Besides Davis, six-foot-four Julie Mantilla ’07 will also help give the Bulldogs a bigger look in the frontcourt. But after spraining her ankle a couple of weeks ago, Mantilla may not play again until after Christmas.

“We’ve always been undersized in the post,” Page said. “To have two freshmen at 6’3″ and 6’4″ is huge for us.”

Backus said the added size and athleticism will also help the team in its two biggest areas of focus — rebounding and defense. Last Sunday, the Bulldogs out-rebounded their exhibition opponent 62-28 and showed new defensive looks. The fifth-year head coach said she would like to use a full-court press more often this season.

“We’ll be able to do some things defensively that we couldn’t do before,” Backus said. “It should also make things more exciting for the fans.”

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