In a high-energy, fast-paced weekend, the women’s basketball team cleaned up in the Ivy League to move up to second in conference standings.
Yale (10-8, 3-1 Ivy) recorded victories against Dartmouth (7-10, 1-2) on Saturday and Harvard (4-12, 2-1) on Friday in its first two-game home weekend of the new year. The Elis beat the Big Green, 63-56, and took down the Crimson, 61-53.
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The opening minutes of the match against Dartmouth offered a preview of what was to come. Center Erica Davis ’07 won the tip and guard Stephanie Marciano ’08 sunk a 3-pointer just 18 seconds after the opening buzzer, followed 20 seconds later by another basket from outside the arc, this time from guard Jamie Van Horne ’09. The dual baskets accounted for the only points in the first two minutes of play.
After that, the Dartmouth defense wore the Elis down by playing a faster-paced game than the Bulldogs could handle. The lead changed with almost every basket, and the Yale offense had trouble getting the ball to the inside players, allowing the shot clock to run down too often.
“We just had to settle down,” Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We played very, very well in the last five minutes, we were just struggling up until then.”
The second half showed an improvement in the Elis’ game as they adjusted to the Big Green’s tendency to collapse on the ball once the Bulldogs worked it into the post. Despite the Big Green’s effective defense, the Bulldogs found the basket fairly consistently, posting a .440 field goal percentage for the match.
Marciano led the offensive drive with a career-high 22 points, outdoing her previous best 16-point performance the night before. Twelve of her points came from 3-point range. Van Horne matched Marciano’s long game with four baskets of her own from outside the arc, racking up 14 points for the second consecutive game. Davis, though she was consistently double-teamed, still managed 10 points and nine boards.
In the final minutes, the small but loud crowd at hand boosted the squad’s faltering energy. A clutch block by captain and forward Chinenye Okafor ’07 with five minutes to go helped to kick off a 17-7 run in favor of the Elis.
“It’s such a relief,” Van Horne said. “This is the feeling that you play for. I think losing to Brown [on Jan. 20] really inspired us, and we aren’t going to forget that loss.”
On Friday night, the Bulldogs played an entirely different style of game against Harvard, but eventually reached the same result. As opposed to the quick Big Green squad, the Crimson players were big and physical, and the atmosphere in Lee Amphitheater was intense — a large crowd and the Yale Precision Marching Band came out en force.
Against the Cantabs, the Elis showed improvement in defending against screens, which had given them trouble early in the season, but their transition defense was still a bit slow. The Bulldogs also stepped it up on the other end of the court, going 22-28 from the charity stripe for one of the team’s highest free throw percentages for the season.
The first half was a hard-fought battle with no immediate victor; the first 20 left the Crimson and the Bulldogs knotted at 32 points apiece. While Davis scored 14 points in the half, on her way to a game-high 19, Okafor did not look herself, tallying just one point in the first stanza and three overall. Marciano began her outstanding weekend with a then-career-high 16 points, including three baskets from beyond the arc.
The second half was similarly played, and the Bulldogs constantly exchanged the lead with a physical and aggressive Cantab squad until a basket by guard Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 secured the Elis the lead in the seventh minute of play. The Bulldogs were able to use good outside movement and Marciano’s playmaking to get the ball to the inside players, particularly Davis. However, the long ball was again a major factor, and with 22 seconds remaining, one of Marciano’s four 3-pointers put an exclamation point on a hard-fought Bulldog victory.
“The biggest thing is that [Harvard is] a really big team,” Davis said. “We couldn’t back down from that. We really had to battle back on every single possession.”
The Elis went into last weekend expecting two different styles of play — an aggressive Harvard squad and the fast-paced Big Green — and they got just that. But the Bulldogs were able to adjust in each game to overcome the challenges each team presented. With help from a highlight performance by Marciano and Van Horne’s continued surge, the Bulldogs were able to wipe the feet out from under their tough Ancient Eight opponents and catapult themselves into second place in the conference for the first time since their championship 2001-’02 season.
“It feels like fulfilling a prophecy,” Davis said. “To show the rest of the League we don’t belong at the bottom.”