The women’s basketball team may have faced its second biggest challenge of the early season last weekend against vaunted Brown, and it passed with flying colors. But the most daunting task comes tomorrow, with a quick road rematch against the Bears far away from friendly New Haven.
Last weekend, the Bulldogs (8-7, 1-0 Ivy) beat Brown (13-2, 0-1) for the first time in nine contests to extend their winning streak to six games. Tomorrow, the Elis will test their Ancient Eight mettle for the first time away from Payne Whitney when they head to Providence and tip off against the Bears once again. Brown, off to a disappointing start after the 2005-’06 Ivy title run, fell to a dominant Yale squad on Jan. 13 for the first time since 2002.
While the original contest pitted the surging Elis against the lackluster Bears, the upcoming matchup should showcase more of Brown’s abilities, Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said.
“The road is tough in the Ivy League,” she said. “Brown is, to me, a dangerous team and I think that they did not play as well as they’re capable of [last Saturday].”
The past few weeks have seen a rebirth of the Bulldogs as they powered through a six-game winning streak and took home some key Ivy individual honors. Captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07 — who has 143 boards of her own — has spearheaded a very strong year for Yale rebounding, and the Bulldogs head the Ivies in team offensive rebounds and sit in second for defensive boards.
The Bulldogs have ramped up their scoring effort and, with contributions from Ivy-honored center Erica Davis ’07 and guard Melissa Colborne ’10, are one of the top offensive teams in the conference. But the Elis still rely on their solid defending to stymie their opponents’ offensive drives.
“Definitely, defense is our focus,” guard Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 said. “We know that we can always fall back on it to help us win games.”
Brown, on the other hand, has its own youth movement, getting steady contributions from freshmen Shae Fitzpatrick, Courtney Lee and Lindsay Walls. In addition, lead scorer and rebounder Ashley King-Bischof has two Ivy League Player of the Week honors under her belt.
Also effective players are Brown guards Annesley O’Neal and Lena McAfee, a senior and junior, respectively. O’Neal netted a team third-best eight points and McAfee led her squad with seven rebounds in the game against Yale.
While the Bears only have two victories thus far, the squad’s key players and their efficiency at stealing the ball may expose the Elis’ high turnover problem. The Bulldogs have been focusing on reducing the number of turnovers per game, as well as continuing to perfect their defense. They have also been trying to anticipate the adjustments the Brown squad will make to their game following the Yale victory last week, Gobrecht said.
The Bulldogs are on the upswing; they have already more than doubled their total number of victories from last season and have a winning record for the first time in four years. The recent wins have given the Elis confidence in their game and have proven the team to be a worthy competitor in the Ancient Eight, especially after beating teams like Marist and Brown.
“I think our rebounding has definitely been great,” guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 said. “That and just learning to play together better and the new confidence we have in ourselves.”
While confidence is key for the Elis as the weekend approaches, with the combination of Okafor, the league leader for boards; Davis, with the highest field goal percentage in the Ivies (.534); and guard Stephanie Marciano’s ’08 second-best assist average (4.4), the Bulldogs can work through their struggling long game and high number of turnovers to battle seventh-place Brown.
“It’s more exciting than anything,” Lillemoe said. “We know that every game we can compete, we know how we can play, so we just want to keep that going.”