The first game of the season, for any team, in any sport, serves as a foundation.
For the men’s basketball team, the task to build upon this foundation — as is every team’s mission — is especially daunting. In their season-opener this past Monday, the Elis led No.1 University of Connecticut (1-0) 31-28 at the half.
The Bulldogs (0-1) travel to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., this weekend to take part in the annual Marist Classic. They play Eastern Michigan in the first round Saturday, before taking on either host Marist or Coastal Carolina in the second round Sunday.
In the first round of the Preseason NIT, the Bulldogs shocked the top-ranked team in the nation in the first half. But in the second frame, the Huskies got their act together, rallying to defeat the Elis 70-60. Although Yale lost, it was an impressive start to the Bulldogs’ 2003-2004 campaign. The game, which was Yale’s first-ever nationally-televised game, took place at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn.
“It would have been a heck of a lot sweeter to win,” forward Scott Gaffield ’04 said. “A loss is still a loss. But it’s pretty tough to be too unhappy.”
The Bulldogs have plenty to be proud of.
“A lot of positives came out of that game,” Gaffield said. “We helped each other out on defense and didn’t get beat in transition. We played extremely well together.”
According to Yale point guard Alex Gamboa ’05, the Bulldogs played “almost-perfect basketball” in the first half. But Gamboa was also quick to caution against complacency.
“We want to build upon the first game,” he said. “We don’t want to take a step back. We don’t want the UConn game to be the highlight of our season.”
It was Gamboa who directed the offense that was so effective against the Huskies in the first half. The junior had a disappointing sophomore season, but on Monday, he showed some of the form that earned him Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors two years ago. He handled UConn’s defensive pressure masterfully while collecting four points and five assists.
Two of those assists came courtesy of baskets by center Dominick Martin ’05. Martin, who sat out last year after transferring from Princeton, finished the game with 14 points and five rebounds.
“[Martin] brings an unbelievable presence to the middle for us,” Gamboa said. “It was his first game in two years and all of a sudden he’s going up against Emeka Okafor. He had the confidence and did not shy away.”
Gaffield, guard Edwin Draughan ’05, forward Paul Vitelli ’04, center Justin Simon ’04 and captain Matt Minoff ’04 round out the core group of upperclassmen Yale will rely on throughout the season.
This center corps scored all 60 of Yale’s points against UConn Monday night.
Rookie forward Sam Kaplan ’07 and guard Casey Hughes ’07 saw limited minutes Monday, but will get more chances to contribute as the season progresses. Forward Jason Abromaitis ’07, another freshman standout, was sidelined with a high ankle sprain.
“We have a veteran team,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “But we fully expected all three [freshmen] to be in the rotation.”
As for this weekend, Gaffield admitted he was unfamiliar with the teams in the tournament.
“I don’t know a whole lot about Eastern Michigan or Marist,” he said. “But we have to bring a lot of intensity. We have to generate our own force. We’re playing in Poughkeepsie, not in a packed arena and not against the No. 1 team in the country.”
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