Though the goal remains the same, the road to success will likely prove to be far more difficult this weekend for the men’s basketball team.
Fresh off their impressive road sweep of rivals Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend, the Bulldogs (7-10, 3-1 Ivy) look to put on a repeat performance for their home crowd when they return to the friendly confines of Lee Amphitheater this week. Yale will face off against Ivy League juggernauts Penn (11-7, 2-0) and Princeton (9-7, 0-2), picked to finish first and second in the league, respectively, in preseason polls.
The teams have combined to capture over 80 percent of Ancient Eight titles since the inception of the league, and one of the two schools has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament for the past 18 seasons.
“These are two perennial powerhouses in the Ivy League,” forward Ross Morin ’09 said. “We just have to come in and play hard. Right now, we’re focusing on trying to play our own game and utilizing our advantages.”
Princeton enters tonight’s game leading the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents a miserly 51.9 points per game. Despite their defensive efforts, the Tigers carry the baggage of three consecutive losses into New Haven and a winless league record after two games for the first time in over 20 years. But Princeton’s recent struggles should not be a cause for complacency for the Bulldogs, who have dropped seven of the last eight against the tenacious Tigers.
Eight different Tigers have led the team in scoring in at least one game this year. Junior forward Kyle Koncz leads Princeton in scoring for the season, putting up just under 10 points a game, but missed Monday’s game against Seton Hall due to a stress reaction in his left foot; his availability is questionable for tonight. Koncz has made at least three three-pointers in nine of the Tigers’ first 15 games this season, and an astounding 83 percent of his field goal attempts over the past two seasons have come from behind the arc.
Limiting Princeton’s scoring opportunities appears to be a necessity if the Bulldogs are to come away with a win, as the Tigers have won 36 of their last 38 games when scoring more than 60 points.
Whereas Princeton prides itself on its defense, Penn impresses with its potent offensive attack. The defending Ivy League champions present perhaps the greatest challenge the Elis will face this season. The Quakers are the only team in the Ancient Eight without a loss and lead the league in scoring, field goal percentage, assists per game, and steals per game. Penn boasts three of the league’s most prolific scorers, including senior forward Mark Zoeller, who lights opponents up for almost 19 points an outing and collects over eight rebounds a game. Penn also features last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, senior guard Ibrahim Jaaber. Jaaber pours in over 16 points a game to go along with his league-leading 5.6 assists.
While this weekend presents a significant challenge for the Bulldogs, it also serves as a barometer for Yale to assess just where it stands against the best the league has to offer. The red-hot Elis, currently tied for second in the league with Cornell, have won four of their last five games and have steadily been gaining momentum since the holiday break.
Last weekend, Yale demonstrated the considerable strides is has made since the beginning of the season, when it started by winning only two of its first 10 games. In some of their finest plays of the year, the Bulldogs shot over 53 percent from the field and used solid team basketball to come away with back-to-back road victories. Guard Caleb Holmes ’08 had a breakout weekend, with a career-high 19 points against to lift Yale over the Crimson on Friday and followed it up with 16 points and four assists at Dartmouth. Holmes shot a perfect 17-for-17 from the penalty stripe last weekend and has now drilled 20 straight foul shots.
“Caleb did a great job,” head coach James Jones said. “He got to the basket, where he was able to score or get to the foul line. He really was effective passing the ball, as well as scoring.”
Team players said they feel prepared for the challenge and that they hope to carry their recent momentum into this weekend.
“We’ve had a really good week of practice,” guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “Coach Jones has done a lot to motivate us and gotten us ready to play this week. We’re excited and ready to go.”