After a 3-1 start had the women’s basketball team flying high and in first place in Ivy League standings, this weekend saw them rapidly falling back to earth.

Yale, Harvard and Dartmouth all came into the weekend tied for first place, but after the dust had settled, only the Crimson and Big Green would retain that position. The Bulldogs (5-14, 3-3 Ivy) lost both games, bringing them down to fifth place in the Ancient Eight.

The Elis first played at Harvard (12-8, 5-1) on Friday, losing 65-55 to the Crimson. The Bulldogs then traveled north to Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, where Dartmouth (8-12, 5-1) defeated them 73-63.

The Elis came into the weekend anticipating the tough task ahead of them. Win both games, and they would be tied with Cornell (13-6, 5-1) for first place — and in a great position to make a run at the title and automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

But these ambitions quickly faded over the weekend, starting with a rough first half in Cambridge. Struggling to get out of the gate has been a theme of the Bulldogs’ Ivy League season so far, as the Elis have trailed at the half in five out of their six Ancient Eight contests. The Bulldogs have trailed by an average of 6.8 points at halftime in those games.

“We’ve played five of our first six games on the road, and this is something that tends to happen more on the road,” guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 said. “We need to be able to stay closer in the first half despite the energy the home team typically brings to start the game.”

The source of the Elis’ first-half struggles against the Crimson was their on-again, off-again shooting, which was off again to the tune of 20.8 percent for the half. Such poor shooting was a continuation from their final half of the previous weekend, where the Bulldogs shot 28.6 percent on their way to losing by eight against Cornell. Also familiar were the Eli struggles from the 3-point line, where the Bulldogs made only five of their 26 3-point attempts for the game against Harvard.

“We were stagnant on offense a lot during the Harvard game, and I think that hurts the rhythm of our shooting,” Van Horne said. “We also need to attack the basket more and not rely so much on our 3-point shot, especially when it isn’t falling.”

To the Elis’ credit though, they were only down by nine at half, a surprising margin considering Harvard shot a blistering 51.9 percent in the first half. The Elis kept the Crimson close early, pulling within one point, 14-13, with 9:35 left in the half. The Crimson then went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to finish the half up 30-21.

The Bulldogs began the second half with a spark, closing to within four points on a Van Horne 3-pointer a little over two minutes into the half. Harvard responded and held the lead between six and 10 points for the next 14 minutes. The Elis briefly posed a threat after forward Mady Grobrecht’s ’11 layup drew the Bulldogs to within five with 3:43 left in the game, but they could not capitalize any further as Harvard made their free throws down the stretch and ended the possibility of a Bulldog victory.

Unfortunately for the Elis, Saturday’s game at Dartmouth followed much of the same pattern as Friday’s.

The Bulldogs again let their opponent gain a quick edge, with the Big Green leading 15-5 only a little over five minutes into the game. The Elis showed early resilience, however, and went on a 10-1 run ignited by 3-pointers by forward Haywood Wright ’10 and guard Stephanie Marciano ’08. That run brought the score to 16-15 with 8:26 left in the half, giving hope that the Bulldogs might have solved their first-half struggles.

The Big Green ended those hopes with a run of their own that brought the halftime score to 35-22. Eli shooting in the half significantly improved from the night before, finishing at 38.1 percent, but the Bulldog defense again had troubles, allowing Dartmouth to shoot 46.2 percent and gain repeated trips to the free-throw line.

In general, several players said the Eli defense philosophy is to pick up man-to-man, while denying passes and pressuring heavy on the ball. But such a philosophy may be opening up driving lanes to the basket, as the Crimson and Big Green both shot 48 percent this weekend, while only attempting 13 3-pointers combined.

“Our help defense wasn’t as good as it had been this weekend, which is why the drive hurt us so much,” Van Horne said. “We do need to do a better job being ready on the ball, but we also have to make better rotations and rebound better to prevent them from getting such high percentage shots.”

Dartmouth began the second half on a tear, threatening to turn the game into a blowout. With the Big Green up 56-34 with 9:33 left, the Elis turned it to another gear. In only two-and-a-half minutes, the Bulldogs cut a 22 point deficit down to 13 with a 9-0 run. From there, the Elis came as close as seven points of the lead with 2:08 left, finishing off an impressive 15-point swing.

“It seems like we are a different team in the second half of games,” guard Yoyo Greenfield ’11 said. “We play at a higher energy level as our scoring turns on and our defense stops people.”

The Bulldogs are fast earning a reputation as a comeback crew, staging significant second-half surges in almost all their Ivy League games this season. Among the other Eli exploits are a seven-point comeback win at Columbia and a 12-point comeback win at Brown. While such second-half performances are encouraging signs for the rest of the season, the Bulldogs must remember that poor play has often led them into such difficult situations.

A key reason for the Elis’ recent three-game skid might be the absence of backup point guard Greenfield. Greenfield said she rolled her foot during the second Brown game, resulting in a fracture and sprain. Greenfield’s next checkup is Feb. 22, meaning Van Horne and guard Brittani Nichols ’10 will need to continue to take over Greenfield’s point guard duties.

“It’s hard not having Yoyo,” forward Lindsey Williams ’11 said. “She is a great player, point guard and defender, and since our fast pace style of play is very up-tempo, we need all the fresh bodies that we can get, so it always hurts to be down a man.”

While the Bulldogs now reside in fifth place in the Ivy League, the schedule looks bright as they take their undefeated Ancient Eight home record into a four-game homestand that begins this weekend against sixth-place Princeton and seventh-place Penn, opening up the possibility for another rise toward the top.