The Bulldogs needed a win this weekend.
They got it. And much more.
After starting the Ivy League season 0-2, Yale (6-11, 1-3 Ivy) found itself on the brink of virtual elimination from the championship race. It did not get any easier for the Bulldogs with conference powerhouses Penn and Princeton visiting.
But the Elis put together a pair of inspiring performances, including a 54-52 victory over the Quakers on Friday that ended Penn’s 23-game Ivy League winning streak as well as Yale’s eight-game skid against Division-I opponents.
On Saturday, the Tigers narrowly defeated the Bulldogs, 49-47, on a Will Venable lay-up with three seconds left on the clock. The loss, however, was little more than a technicality.
“It’s the best I’ve seen [us] play in the past two years,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “[We] were phenomenal … I’m proud of [us]. We played great defense and great defense keeps you in the game and certainly kept us in this one [against Princeton].”
Defense and intensity were major themes this weekend for the Bulldogs.
Yale certainly did not have its best offensive outing Saturday. As a team, it shot 35 percent (14-40) for the game, including a miserable 15.4 percent (2-13) from behind the arc. But the Bulldogs’ energy, which has been questioned throughout this season, was exceptional.
Diving after loose balls, hustling down rebounds, and forcing multiple turnovers, the Elis seemed almost possessed.
Even the normally stoic Jones was animated on the sidelines.
“I think this weekend we got a lot of our confidence back,” captain Matt Minoff ’04 said. “We played great as a team.”
Minoff added that has not always been the case this season.
“[Team chemistry] has been an issue at times,” he said. “It’s not a conscious thing. We all get along and we’re all friends. Sometimes the games just don’t show that.”
Many of the Bulldogs have been playing together for years, and it showed this weekend. On defense, they were in sync, allowing few uncontested looks and almost no back-door baskets. On the other end, they constantly found their open teammates, most meaningfully in the closing minutes of Friday’s game. Down by three with a minute and change remaining, Minoff passed the ball to forward Paul Vitelli ’04, who drained a three-pointer to tie the game.
Meanwhile, newcomers, center Dominick Martin ’05, forward Sam Kaplan ’07 and guard Casey Hughes ’07, who all contributed significant minutes, hardly missed a step.
Despite their triumphs this weekend, the Bulldogs still face the daunting task of claiming the league title, which may demand winning out.
“We have to win the rest of our games,” guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “We know how well we can play together and I think we’re going to run off some wins.”
The question for the Elis will be whether or not they will be able to exert the kind of gusto they did in their last two games. But according to Minoff, the matter is not up for debate.
“You have to, you really have no choice,” he said. “Every game is just as important as the last.”