Those Bulldogs sure are a hard bunch to figure out.

After a dramatic 77-73 overtime victory against Quinnipiac (9-4), Yale (6-7, 0-0 Ivy) seemed to finally figure things out when it followed up with a 75-66 win against UC Irvine (3-13) for the Elis’ first back-to-back win of the season. But those consecutive victories were quickly negated by back-to-back losses, first to UC Riverside (8-7) and then in an ugly 68-35 performance against St. Bonaventure (12-4) that left the coach scratching her head.

On Friday, the Bulldogs bounced back against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (3-11) with a 74-66 win to finish off the winter break with a 3-2 record. But at midseason, the young Yale squad is still trying to consistently play well on both sides of the court. Since the non-conference season wraps up with a final game against Bryant on Tuesday, the Elis are running out of time to figure things out for the crucial Ivy League stretch.

“I think we’ve definitely shown improvement in places and we work together very well,” captain and guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 said. “But we all agreed that we need to consistently play better on defense. We’re pretty good at scoring, but in the Ivy League games, we need to win with our defense.”

Indeed, for an up-tempo team like Yale, sound defense often gets overlooked amid the hectic pace of the offense. But in the Ivy League, better preparation and scouting turns an up-and-down affair into a slow, methodical game of chess. When St. Bonaventure did that against the Elis and severely limited the fast-break attack, Yale was completely overwhelmed.

“St. Bonaventure was a really good team and we mentally weren’t ready,” said Michelle Cashen ’12, who was named the Ivy Rookie of the Week award after a 12-point, eight-rebound performance against UC Irvine. “Every team, every player, gets those bad days sometimes when your shot’s not falling. Hopefully, from a mental aspect, we can work harder on defense and all the little things. We can’t hope for the best, but we can play for the best.”

If the Elis can work on becoming more consistent on the defensive side of the ball, they can help ignite an already successful high-octane offense that is averaging an Ivy second 66.8 points a game. The anchors of Yale’s players are two frontcourt players, Mady Gobrecht ’11 and Haywood Wright ’10.

Wright received Ivy Player of the Week honors after her monster 18 point, 9 rebound, four block, four steal performance in the overtime thriller against Quinnipiac, and she has emerged as a pre-eminent post presence. Her league-leading 1.9 blocks a game also shores up a Bulldog defense that is getting better every day. Meanwhile, Gobrecht has turned into Yale’s best all-around player by filling up the box scores from all statistical categories.

“We do a good job of moving the ball and usually our points and assists are pretty well distributed,” Mady Gobrecht, who flirted with a triple-double against UC Irvine with 8 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and nine assists, said. “I personally don’t really focus on any one thing and instead try to focus on all aspects of the game.”

That team-oriented, all-around approach has particularly helped Yale’s best offensive weapon, Melissa Colborne ’10.

“Our offense is designed to give us more possessions and everybody gets more shots than they would in a normal game,” said Colborne, who is averaging an Ivy League second 17.9 points a game. “We’re one of the leaders in scoring in the Ivy League because everybody gets a lot of touches.”

The play of Wright, Gobrecht and Colborne has been instrumental to Yale’s wins this season, but experience in close games will also add to the mental toughness of the team. After dropping their previous two games by a combined seven points and having six of their first eight games decided by five points or less, the Bulldogs’ dramatic overtime victory against Quinnipiac showed that Yale was capable of pulling out close games.

With seconds to go in overtime against the Bobcats, Brianna Segerson ’12 hit a cutting Van Horne, who put the Bulldogs up for good in the game. It’s those kinds of energy plays that determine the difference between an Ivy League championship and a so-so season. Picked to finish fourth in the Ivy League this season, Yale will use that underdog status to motivate themselves. But for now, they have to take that approach to their next game against Bryant before they tackle the Ivy League bear.

“We’re a good team when we play hard and we play focused,” Van Horne said. “Our challenge will be to do that in every game for the rest of the season.”