PHILADELPHIA — On Valentine’s Day weekend, the women’s basketball team provided plenty of drama at Princeton, right up until they secured lead in the last seconds, but then had their hearts broken at Penn.
The split games were deceptive, especially given the 62-46 final score against the Quakers, because the Bulldogs (10-12, 3-5 Ivy) played fairly consistently against both Princeton (9-12, 4-3) and Penn (6-15, 3-5), particularly on the defensive end. Most of the Quakers’ points came in the final few minutes, when Yale was forced to play a high-risk style in order to make up a double-digit deficit.
“We really stressed getting back on defense this week and I think we did a good job of that,” guard Kaitlyn Lillemoe ’09 said. “We held two Ivy League teams essentially to 50-some points scoring and that’s definitely something positive that we can take away from this weekend.”
But the Penn defeat was not the Elis’ only loss this weekend: Yale also lost starting forward Haywood Wright ’10 to a knee injury on Friday.
YALE 56, PRINCETON 54
It was fitting that Lillemoe mentioned defensive consistency after the games because she was the one who provided all the heroics — and drama — on the defensive end in Friday night’s matchup against the Tigers.
The Bulldogs started the game ice-cold and quickly faced an 11-point deficit as the Tigers opened the game on a 13-2 run. But in the second half, the Elis began to make a run and took their first lead around the seven-minute mark. The two teams went back and forth for the rest of the half, and with 13 seconds left, Penn fouled Lillemoe with Yale ahead by one.
Since she had been a perfect 6 for 6 from the charity stripe on the season, many figured the game would be in the bag. But Lillemoe missed both her free-throws.
What followed was a hectic sequence of events. Princeton’s Whitney Downs pulled down the rebound from the missed free-throw and took off down the sideline. After passing several defenders, she looked to have an unimpeded path to the basket on the way to scoring a potential game winner when suddenly, Lillemoe flew in to strip her of the ball. The Yale guard was then fouled immediately and sank one of two free throws to give the Bulldogs a slim 2-point margin.
With five seconds left, Princeton had one last chance, but Lillemoe tipped away an outlet pass to solidify the 56-54 Eli victory.
“As a basketball player, there are some things that you don’t have a lot of control over,” Lillemoe said. “So I just tried to do what I could control — and that was to make plays on defense and make sure the girl I was guarding didn’t score. Plus, I definitely felt like I was responsible for making those free-throws, so I had a little extra motivation.”
PENN 62, YALE 46
While Friday’s game against the Tigers was up in the air down to the last minute, the Bulldogs’ game against Penn on Saturday night was decidedly less eventful. While the game featured the league’s two top scorers — Carrie Biemer for the Quakers and forward Melissa Colborne ’10 for the Bulldogs — it was a defensive struggle throughout. The first half was particularly ugly, with both teams struggling to find the range and combining for just 11 field goals.
In the second half, however, Penn began to shoot more accurately. That’s when the Elis went on a shooting spree from behind the arc, with captain and guard Jamie Van Horne ’09 sinking three triples and Colborne adding two of her own. Colborne finished with 17 points and three field goals from deep while Van Horne made five three-pointers to add 15 points. After sinking a total of seven three-pointers this weekend, Van Horne went over 200 for her career and grew her Yale record for three-pointers made.
“It’s good to finally shoot well,” said Van Horne, who had been struggling from the field prior to this weekend. “But they left me open [early in the second half] and I just knocked down the shots that I should be knocking down.”
But that’s when the tide turned.
After Colborne sank a step-back three-pointer in the corner at the 11:37 mark, the Bulldogs just could not buy a basket and would go on to make only one more field goal for the rest of the game. Although the Elis maintained their defensive intensity, the paucity of scoring was simply too much to overcome, as the Elis were forced to go to a sellout trapping defense in an attempt to force turnovers.
For a stretch, it looked like the risk would pay off when Yale pulled within six points of the lead at the five-minute mark.
But with the shot clock going off, Biemer took a desperation heave from the corner that found nothing but net. The three-pointer was a heartbreaker for a Yale defense that had been working so hard to allow a comeback. By the time Penn added a few more garbage time points, the game became out of hand and Yale had to swallow another tough defeat.
“We played the heck out of the defense tonight — and for the whole weekend,” head coach Chris Gobrecht said. “We just need to all get more involved in scoring the ball. We’re letting teams guard two people on our offense instead of our whole team.”
WRIGHT LOST TO INJURY
Although Yale lost to Penn, an even bigger loss for the Elis this weekend might be their losing starting forward Haywood Wright ’10 to a knee injury halfway through the Princeton game. Wright had been an integral part of the Yale offense and her injury may have contributed to the Bulldogs’ scoring struggles during the Penn game.
“It just sucks,” forward Mady Gobrecht ’11 said. “Haywood loves playing and works as hard as anybody on offense and defense. She is more of the shooting forward and I’m more of the passing forward, so with her injured, we all need to look for our shots more and that starts with me being more aggressive and finishing better around the basket.”
Further information about her prognosis and when she will return to the court was not available.
Although the Elis showed plenty of mettle and effort in their two games this weekend, splitting the pair has essentially reduced the chances of an Ivy League title to a sliver. The Bulldogs are still mathematically in contention, but if undefeated Dartmouth has another successful weekend, the Elis will be completely removed from the equation. But with all the crazy shake-ups in the Ancient Eight, anything is possible.
Next weekend, Yale will continue its campaign in the Empire State with games at Columbia and Cornell.