While Santa Claus successfully delivered gifts to many Yalies over the break, the women’s basketball team could not deliver wins to match their continuing improvement on the court.

The Bulldogs (2-10, 0-0 Ivy) played five games over the break, losing 70-60 at Quinnipiac (12-2), 105-71 at South Florida (10-6), 67-61 in overtime versus Lehigh (9-7) and 66-59 versus Holy Cross (7-8). In the final loss yesterday, however, the Elis defined the term ‘moral victory’ in its 57-55 loss to a 14-4 Boston College team, on the Eagles home floor, demonstrating how far the Bulldogs have come in competing with the nation’s top teams since their 56-point defeat in the season opener against No. 7 Stanford (14-3).

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Much like the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs continue to test themselves against tough non-conference opponents in hopes that the losses will make the Elis battle-tested for the upcoming Ivy League schedule.

“We love playing a strong out-of-conference schedule; it prepares us for the league and today [against Boston College] was a perfect example of that,” guard Stephanie Marciano ’08 said. “It would have been great to get the win, but there are many positives to take from today’s game and we are going to build on them for Brown this Saturday.”

The Elis lost by an average of 51 points against Stanford and Arizona State (11-5), but only by an average of 18 points against Big East member South Florida and ACC member Boston College. In particular, losing by only 2 points to Boston College represents the rapid improvement of the Bulldogs in only one week. The Eagles had previously beaten Holy Cross by 19 points, the same Crusader team that defeated the Elis by seven points last Sunday.

“We played really good post defense and our pressure on their perimeter players forced lots of turnovers,” guard Brittani Nichols ’10 said. “Along with coming out hard at the beginning of both halves, we did not have a drop off in the middle of each period.”

The Bulldogs played a similarly strong game against a possible NCAA tournament team out of the Northeast Conference in Quinnipiac, who compares favorably to Marist (15-2), who will likely make the tournament out of the MAAC and also previously defeated the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs lost to Marist by 15, but only to their neighbors up I-95 by 10 points.

“We are trying to improve our offense [over break],” forward Ashley Carter ’10 said. “We are working to get more movement and eliminate turnovers that convert to easy baskets for our opponent.”

Playing against two teams hovering around 0.500 in Lehigh and Holy Cross, the Bulldogs lost by only six and seven points respectively. Compare this with a 15-point loss earlier in the year to a St. Mary’s team with an 8-8 record similar to the Mountain Hawks’ and the Crusaders.’

Several Elis said they believe the shrinking losing margins indicate the teams’ continuing progress.

“We have made improvements in all facets — at this point we just need to get everything flowing at one time,” Nichols said. “When we’re all on the same page and are working on both sides of the floor, we are hard to beat.”

But how do these declining scoring margins compare with the eminent Ivy League competition?

The answers start with reviewing the current standings. Cornell has the best and only winning record in the league right now at 7-5. But, looking closer, six of Cornell’s wins have come against teams with a losing record. The Elis have only played four teams with a losing record thus far, and against these teams have a record of 2-2, a percentage that would put them essentially even with Cornell.

“Whereas other Ivy teams have losing records against teams who would not fare well in our conference, we play a lot of teams from bigger conferences and top 30 teams,” Nichols said.

The Elis’ 2-10 record on the season may be deceiving, particularly when factoring in their tough schedule. The Bulldogs’ schedule is rated the 57th toughest in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin’s RPI ratings (taken on Jan. 1), compared to Cornell’s far easier schedule of 231th most difficult. Cornell, then at 7-5, seemingly has as much to prove as Yale, at 2-10, going into Ivy League games. It remains to be seen how Cornell will respond to some tougher competition in the Ivy League.

“I expect our toughest opponents to be Princeton, a good team who also had a challenging schedule, and Harvard,” Carter said.

Harvard, who won the Ivy League last year with a record of 14-12 overall, currently has the second best record in the Ivy League at 7-8 (0-1 Ivy) against a schedule rated 204th toughest in the nation. In addition, the Crimson lost to 4-9 (1-0 Ivy) Dartmouth on Jan. 5.

“I think the Ivy League is wide open and I think we are going to contend for the championship,” Marciano said. “Every game in the Ivy League is tough and we will have to be focused and play well each night to win.”