There are two reasons why the women’s basketball team needs to avoid a repeat of last year’s Ivy opener against Brown when it faces the Bears Saturday night at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

First, the 84-77 defeat was the first of many close league losses last season. The Bulldogs gave up an early lead and did not have enough firepower to come back. Second, the loss was the difference between tying for fifth in the Ancient Eight and finishing in last place.

“We’re really excited to finally play our first Ivy League game,” guard Julie Cohen ’04 said Tuesday. “We had a rough start, but we’re playing much better basketball right now.”

The Bulldogs (2-10, 0-0 Ivy) have gone 2-1 in their last three games, with wins over Syracuse and Lafayette, and will have to return to their newfound offensive chemistry to beat a confident Bears squad. The Elis scored an average of 76.5 points in the two victories, but put up only 57 in Monday night’s loss to George Washington.

The Bears (6-6, 0-0), who return all of their players from last year’s second-place team, enter the contest with a four-game win streak.

After the GW game, Yale head coach Amy Backus said her team was excited to get a clean slate with the conference season but added that Brown would be a tough first opponent.

“They’re experienced — returned all of their players, have strong post players [and] they’re athletic,” Backus said.

The Eli frontcourt will have its hands full with Brown senior forward Nyeema Mitchell, who leads the Bears in scoring with 13.8 points per game. But the Bulldogs cannot be too distracted down low with Mitchell because Brown’s leading rebounder is actually 5-foot-8-inch guard Sarah Hayes. The sophomore ball handler pulls down 6.8 rebounds per game and is third in the league in steals (2.08 per game).

Three-point shooting is the Bulldogs’ main advantage over the Bears. Yale is first in the Ivy League in shooting percentage from downtown, while Brown is last. Tory Mauseth ’05 has been lethal from behind the arc and is 12th in the nation in 3-point percentage with 47.2 percent.

Captain Brynn Gingras ’04 has quietly moved into the league’s leaders in several categories. A smart player at point guard, Gingras is second in steals (2.09 per game), first in free-throw percentage (92%), and fifth in assists (3.45 per game).

With Gingras, Cohen and Morgan Richards ’05, the Bulldogs have three solid ball-handlers to set the tone in their starting lineup. And as an effective antidote to early-season offensive droughts, Mauseth and inside-outside threat Lindsay Page ’05 have been subbing in early in the first half. Both players received sporadic minutes early on but now see about 20 minutes a game in Backus’ new rotation.

There was debate after Yale’s first several games about whether the veterans needed more playing time or if the underclassmen deserved an opportunity if returners had a cold start.

After seeing more consistent performances over the break, Backus said she plans to stick with the current rotation.

“The kids will obviously feel more comfortable knowing who they’re going in for,” Backus said after the GW game.

Yale certainly picked a good time to settle into a comfort zone. The Bulldogs play their first two league games against the Bears, and their third against Penn (6-6, 1-0) who also finished in second place last year, tied with Brown and Dartmouth.

“It’s crucial that we win the first game at home — especially since we play them next week at Brown,” forward Christina Phillips ’04 said.

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