The Yale women’s basketball team made a New Year’s resolution — pick up a win.
The Elis did just that, claiming their first victory of the season over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Jan. 5, 70-54. Two nights later, the Bulldogs notched another mark in their win column, downing Lafayette in Easton, Pa, 83-67.
When the Bulldogs (2-9) takes the floor against George Washington University at the John J. Lee Amphitheater tonight, there will be a bit more spring in their step than has been the case in their last couple of home games. After beginning the season with a dismal 0-9 start, the recent pair of road triumphs has changed the team’s mentality.
“We were optimistic that our practice had gone well [before playing Syracuse],” Yale head coach Amy Backus said. “That game [against Syracuse] was a great lift to our confidence. [Against Lafayette,] it was nice to get a relatively easy win under our belts. We’re playing very unselfish basketball.”
In both wins, team chemistry allowed several individuals to shine in the box score. Against Syracuse, teammates saw guard Tory Mauseth ’05 had the hot hand and fed her for five 3-pointers. Mauseth was six-for-six overall from the field for a team-high 17 points.
In the Lafayette game, center Erica Davis ’07 had one of the best individual performances in program history. The 6-foot-3 rookie broke Yale’s single-game scoring record with 36 points on 15-for-20 shooting. The record was previously held by forward Lindsay Page ’05, who scored 35 points against Albany on Dec. 11, 2001. In the historic performance, Davis added seven rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes.
“Erica Davis is just realizing how dominant of a player she can be,” Backus said.
Forward Morgan Richards ’05 said the team recognized Davis had a mismatch against the smaller Leopard who was guarding her.
“Erica did a great job of getting down low on the block and calling for the ball high,” Richards said. “Watching the game, it almost seemed easy, but I think it’s a sign of her ability as a player.”
It also helped that the Yale backcourt kept Lafayette off balance the entire game. Whenever the Leopards tried to triple-team Davis, the Elis punished them for their indiscretions with their outside shooting. The Bulldogs were five-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half.
“It was one of those games where I didn’t realize my performance until afterward,” Davis said. “It felt like a drill, like practice. I honestly didn’t know how many points I had. It didn’t matter who scored.”
Despite the two recent wins, the Bulldogs’ productivity on offense was absent their first four games of the break.
If two losses to competitive teams at the Double Tree Classic in New Orleans Dec. 27-28 — 71-53 to San Jose State and 74-62 to Tulane — were not discouraging enough, two more defeats forced the Elis to do what Backus called “some real soul searching.”
On New Year’s Eve, the Bulldogs returned to New Haven hoping to end 2003 on an upnote, but Fairleigh Dickinson thwarted the Elis, 78-69.
Three days later, the Bulldogs lost 74-61 to Hartford in what may have been the low point of the season. The Elis shot 18.2% in the first half en route to their first loss to the Hawks in the teams’ last six meetings.
Then the stable rotation that has eluded the Elis thus far this season finally came together against Syracuse. The Bulldogs outshot the Orangemen from the field 56.5 to 30.8 percent.
“A huge difference [between] the games against Hartford and Syracuse was our ability to score,” Richards said. “What it really came down to is that we didn’t have [enough] movement away from the ball against Hartford. [But] against Syracuse, we had people moving and setting weak-side screens [to set up] easier looks.”
In addition, Backus said consistent play from both starting and substituting veterans has led to a more successful rotation.
“We weren’t getting consistent scoring from our upperclassmen,” Backus said. “It was a situation where we were trying to blend a lot of experience with inexperience … now, our play is more consistent [which] allows the coaching staff to have [more confidence in] a rotation.”
Backus said she hopes to use her squad’s depth to out-run the visiting Colonels tonight. The Elis will have a tall task ahead of them. George Washington is picked to finish first in the Atlantic 10 this season and has the returning conference Player of the Year.
In the Bulldogs’ favor, Bonnie Smith ’04, last season’s All-Ivy honorable mention, returned from an early-season thigh contusion in the Fairleigh Dickinson game and has been contributing off the bench.
“[The last two wins] give us a new sense of optimism because it’s not just what we know we can do,” Davis said. “Now, we know that other people know we can do it, too.”
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