When the opening whistle blows in coming games, men’s basketball fans might want to shift their attention from the tip-off circle to a pair of freshmen on the front-end of the Yale bench.

This weekend, the Killer P’s lived up to their nickname, effectively putting the Bulldogs’ Ivy League title hopes to rest. In the meantime, forward Sam Kaplan ’07 and guard Casey Hughes ’07 offered a glimpse of who may be leading the championship charge in the future.

Kaplan and Hughes average only 14.6 and 10.9 minutes per game respectively but have seen increased playing time as the season has worn on. This weekend, they clocked in 60-plus minutes between them.

“They’ve slowly progressed, and now Casey is the first or second guard off the bench and Sam is the first post player,” head coach James Jones said.

Hughes is one of the most exciting players in the league, repeatedly giving the Bulldogs a spark off the bench.

“The first thing that jumps at you about Casey is his athleticism,” Eli guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “He’s lightning-quick, and he loves to play. He loves to win.”

While Hughes (3.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg) did not have his best games this weekend, he was key in the Bulldogs’ 63-58 victory over Columbia Feb. 6. The 6’6” guard posted a career-high 11 points in just 15 minutes, including six straight points in the second half.

But numbers only reveal part of his contribution. Twice, he brought the crowd to its feet — one time after he stole the ball at half-court and dunked it emphatically in the open floor.

Perhaps the complete opposite of Hughes in terms of conspicuousness, Kaplan provides an unassuming yet strong frontcourt presence for the Bulldogs.

“[Kaplan’s] tough to play against,” Penn head coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s a smart player. He knows the game — when to shoot, when to post up, how to get to the foul line.”

Throughout the season, Kaplan has been a steady contributor on both the defensive and offensive ends (4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg). Lately he has improved his play, averaging double figures in scoring over the last three games.

“Sam’s just a solid, hard-nosed player,” Gamboa said. “He’s going to go in against taller and bigger than him and get banged up, and pull down some rebounds. [Kaplan] also has a soft touch on his shot. He has some nice moves in the post, too. He can hurt you in a variety of ways.”

Next year, Kaplan and Hughes will be expected to help fill the voids left by graduating seniors: forwards Matt Minoff ’04 and Paul Vitelli ’04, guard Scott Gaffield ’04 and center Justin Simon ’04.

“They’re definitely going to be a factor of how well we do next year,” Gamboa said. “They could foreseeably be starters. They’re going to come away from this season with some confidence. They’re also going to know what they need to work on, and they’re going to work hard and come back better next year for us.”

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