The women’s basketball team will do anything to get ready for Ivy competition, including flying halfway across the country and facing programs it has never seen before a mile above sea level.
This weekend, Yale (1-4) will take on Air Force (3-4), then either Texas-Pan American (3-4) or Western Michigan (3-6) in the Air Force Classic in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said the tournament will be an important preparatory step for conference competition, which starts in January.
“We’re all about getting ready for Ivy games,” she said. “We’ll go wherever we have to go to get that done.”
After losing their home opener to Sacred Heart — their sole appearance in New Haven between two stretches of four away games — the Elis headed to the Rocky Mountains yesterday to prepare for a 5 p.m. tipoff against the Falcons tonight.
The Falcons play a similar kind of defense-oriented hoops to the Bulldogs, and are led by junior forward Alecia Steele, who averages 12.8 points per game and has accumulated three blocks and four steals so far this year. In seven games, Air Force’s opponents have a combined .422 field goal percentage, slightly more impressive than its own .383 mark. The team has totaled 118 defensive rebounds, edging its competition by a narrow two boards.
By contrast, the Eli head scorer, center Erica Davis ’07, averages 16.6 points per game with 10 blocks. Captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07 leads the Bulldogs with 11 steals. As a team, Yale has also shot slightly worse than opponents, averaging a .397 field goal percentage versus a combined .440 percentage against.
“Air Force plays a very deliberate style and they are very disciplined,” Gobrecht said. “They run their offense very well and they do a good job of everybody knowing what their role is.”
The Yale offense, which faltered in the season opener, has gradually improved after three weeks of practice. Eli players have learned to pick up after themselves, totaling 81 offensive rebounds. Even though they have a high number of turnovers at 120, their assist to turnover ratio matches their opponents’ at .6.
Davis has taken the lead in scoring, racking up 83 points, followed by Okafor’s 64 and freshman phenom guard Melissa Colborne ’10 with 55.
Colborne has made quite a name for herself in Ivy League circles through the first month of play. The Canadian has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for two successive weeks, and ranks third on the team in points scored and points per game, as well as boasting one of the highest free throw percentages on the team at .852.
Guard Brittani Nichols ’10 said the recent offensive boom can be attributed to players adjusting back to competition.
“We’ve been stepping up our defensive pressure but we’re getting more comfortable with offensive sets,” she said.
Offensive tactics are a second thought for the Bulldogs, though, as they focus mostly on perfecting their defensive skills during practice. Gobrecht said a strong defense gives the Elis an opportunity to win every game. Okafor noted marked improvements in defense as the team works up its stamina.
“The type of defending we do is very tiring, it takes a lot out of you,” she said. “So I think we’ve gotten a lot better at that.”
Looking ahead to the second game tomorrow, the Elis could face the UTPA Broncos, whose team leaders fall short of the Bulldogs in scoring, but whose team field goal percentage is an impressive .460. Defensively, the Broncos have 165 defensive rebounds and 23 blocks, a significant edge over the Bulldogs.
The WMU squad — also called the Broncos — blow their fellow Broncos at UTPA and the Elis out of the water in terms of scoring. Their top scorer, senior guard Carrie Moore, averages 28 points per game and has 196 points under her belt. They are just as dangerous defensively, with 171 defensive rebounds in seven games this season.
However, the Bulldogs may not be as outmatched as they seem because they have had only five games to rack up season stats, while the Falcons and both Bronco squads have competed in seven matchups in the 2006-’07 season.