Last Tuesday night, for 12 minutes and nine seconds, the Bulldogs knew what it was like to be an elite women’s basketball team.
Although the final score was a lopsided 109–59 in favor of No. 1 ranked Baylor (7–0), the Elis (4–2) gave the Bears and everything they could handle for most of the first half: Yale led Baylor by four at the first media timeout — five and a half minutes into the game — and with 7:51 remaining in the half, the Bulldogs still held a 26–25 lead. But despite the loss, the team went on to secure victories against the University of Houston (0–5) and the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs (1–5) on Friday and Saturday to complete its tour of Texas.
“If we can play like that for 40 minutes, we should win every game from here on out this season,” captain Michelle Cashen ’12 said. “For those bad stretches, we just need to learn how to stop the bleeding.”
Cashen added that the Baylor game showed Yale is capable of holding its own against the nation’s top teams in college women’s basketball.
Zenab Keita ’14 was charged with covering Baylor’s 6’8” center, Brittney Griner, the preseason national player of the year. The 6’2” Keita scored Yale’s first seven points against Griner and made key plays on the defensive end. She and guard Sarah Halejian ’15 led the team in scoring with 13 points apiece, and Keita finished the game with new career highs in points, assists, steals and blocks.
But when Griner came off the bench with nine minutes remaining in the first half, she quickly burst Yale’s bubble and reminded everyone why the Bears are the best team in the country. Baylor finished the first half on a 32–7 run to go into the break with a 24-point lead that Yale could not challenge.
Head coach Chris Gobrecht said playing Baylor allowed the team not only to experience a different caliber of basketball, but a completely different athletic environment as well. Basketball is only one part of her players’ academic and extracurricular lives as Yale students, she said, but for Baylor’s players, basketball is everything.
“It’s kind of a neat thing for us as basketball players … to step into an atmosphere that’s all about women’s basketball,” Gobrecht said. “It’s so different from the life that we all live.”
The Bulldogs’ home games last year never topped 800 in attendance, and the home opener this season drew only 250. But during Yale’s match against Baylor, 7,000 fans filled the seats of Baylor’s Paul J. Meyer Arena.
After the Baylor loss, the team’s second loss in a row, the Elis got back on their feet with an 80–62 victory over Houston. Forward Janna Graf ’14 scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds that helped Yale control possession for most of the game.
Gobrecht said getting rebounds is an important area of the game to work on because Houston is the first of Yale’s five opponents this season that it has outrebounded.
“I was happiest about [Graf’s] boards. She really took that part of her game to heart,” Gobrecht said. “It wasn’t that the ball came to her. She really worked hard for a lot of those rebounds.”
The Bulldogs finished up their Texas swing with a close victory over a tough Texas Pan-American team. Both teams lost possession of the ball frequently: Yale committed 20 turnovers and UTPA had 19. The Broncs scored 19 points on turnovers and battled back against the Bulldogs after Yale took a six–point lead into halftime. But the Elis closed out the game with solid free-throw shooting to preserve the 59–57 victory.
The Bulldogs return to the court next Monday at 7:00 p.m. as they take on the University of Delaware’s Fighting Blue Hens.