The last time the Yale men’s basketball team went to the NCAAs was the 1961-62 season.

While the Bulldogs will not be dancing this March, this weekend they have a chance to end a drought almost as long, as Yale concludes its season on the road against Columbia and Cornell. With a pair of wins, the Elis will finish above .500 in the conference for the third straight season — a feat that has not been accomplished since Yale put together four winning seasons in a row from 1961 to 1964.

“We’ve taken a step forward,” head coach James Jones said. “We’ve changed and we’re going in the right direction.”

The Bulldogs may very well be headed for an Ivy League title in coming years, but right now, they are focused on this weekend.

“I try not to think about next year,” Yale guard Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “We’re still in the middle of this year. I just want to win the next two games.”

As it has been throughout the season, the key for the Bulldogs (11-14, 6-6 Ivy) will be defense.

“Defense has dictated our season,” Gamboa said. “We have to play hard, intense defense and keep scoring to a minimum. We did a good job against [Cornell and Columbia] last time.”

Yale swept the Big Red (11-14, 6-6) and the Lions (8-17, 4-8) earlier this season at home.

The loss Feb. 7 was Cornell’s first in the league after a 5-0 start. The Bulldogs were able to shut down one of the league’s highest-producing offenses, including its top scorer, guard Ka’Ron Barnes (20.4 ppg). The Big Red scored a mere 48 points, well below its 71.1 season average while Barnes was held to 14 points on four-to-16 shooting.

One sour point for Yale was on the boards. The Big Red outrebounded the Elis, 40-30.

“We need to do a better job rebounding,” Jones said. “Last time, they had four put-backs in the first half. We have to block out.”

Saturday will feature the second meeting between James Jones and his younger brother, Joe, who is in his first year at the helm at “the Dock.”

James Jones won the first Jones sibling rivalry 63-58. The Bulldogs trailed at the break, 29-25, but came back in the second half for the victory.

It was one of several games this season in which the Lions found themselves close to pulling off the shocking upset. On Dec. 22, the Lions trailed Villanova 70-66 with just a minute remaining in the game before falling 74-66. More recently, on Feb. 14, Columbia took first place Princeton to overtime, only to lose 78-71.

“The most important thing for us Saturday night is to handle the ball,” Gamboa said. “If we take care of the ball, we should be fine.”

For captain Matt Minoff ’04, forward Paul Vitelli ’04, guard Scott Gaffield ’04, center Justin Simon ’04 and guard Basil Williams ’04, this weekend’s games mark the last of their collegiate careers. At stake for them is an additional milestone — one win will give them a winning record during their tenure with the Bulldogs. The Class of 1992 was the last to finish their collegiate careers with a winning record.

“It’s extremely important for all of us [to have a winning record],” Simon said. “It’s been so long since a class has been able to do it. It’s kind of sad that it’s all coming to an end. I’ve had so many great memories here.”

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