Though the Yale women’s basketball team won just three of its seven games played over break, the Bulldogs experienced a few major highlights, including guard Tamara Simpson’s ’18 last-minute game-winning layup against Maine and head coach Chris Gobrecht’s program-record 108th victory in a win over Wagner.
“It was a cool experience,” Simpson said of the Wagner game. “She’s the winningest coach at Washington and now at Yale too. It shows how amazing of a coach she is. I’m happy to be a part of her success.”
The Elis kicked off reading week with a win against Boston University at home on Dec. 6. Thanks to captain Sarah Halejian’s ’15 nine-point scoring run in the last two minutes of regulation, the Bulldogs put the Patriot League school away, eventually winning by seven points. Halejian currently ranks seventh in the Ivy League in points per game, averaging 14.9 points. One key to the game was the turnover margin — Yale committed only nine turnovers while the Terriers gave the ball away 21 times.
Following the victory, the Bulldogs hit the road for five games. The stretch opened with a loss to University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Despite a team-best 17 points from forward Katie Werner ’17, the Bulldogs’ defense proved fallible, as UMass-Lowell shot 17 of 31 from the field in the second half en route to an eight-point victory.
But after a nine-day break for final exams, the Bulldogs rebounded to defeat Wagner College by 25 points. The win against Wagner was significant not only because of the margin; it also made Gobrecht Yale’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach, passing Cecilia DeMarco, who coached in New Haven from 1990–1999.
“She’s a coach that never lets up. When she believes that we can do something, she’s going to get it out of us,” guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 said. “She’s a very hard-nosed coach, and she displays the toughness that she asks of her players. That’s allowed her to have the success she has had.”
The team then traveled to Bucknell University. Although the Elis forced 12 turnovers, their strong defense was unable to hold off the Bison, who made seven of eight free throws in the final two minutes to put the game out of reach and secure a 73–66 victory.
Leaving Pennsylvania for the Sun Belt, the team headed across the country to face then-No. 25 Arizona State. The Sun Devils’ strong defense held the Bulldogs to 35.5 percent shooting from the field. Yale’s Ivy League-leading average of 15.6 offensive rebounds per game dropped as the team only managed 11 against the Sun Devils. Though the Bulldogs forced 17 turnovers and scored 22 points off the bench, Arizona State led Yale by 25 at halftime and won by 18.
“We played one of our most solid games, and although we didn’t win, I know Coach Gobrecht was pleased with our performance,” Simpson said. “I feel like it helped us prepare for the Ivy League season.”
Despite a 17–6 run in the second half of the Bulldogs’ next game against Oklahoma, bringing the Elis within just two, the Sooners ultimately pulled away and won by a 17-point margin. Offensive struggles doomed Yale, as the team collectively made 32.2 percent of its field goals, a trend that has continued all season. The Bulldogs rank last in the Ivy League and 281st in the nation in shooting at 36.6 percent.
Yale ended the seven-game series at home on a high note, as Simpson sunk a game-winning layup with 10 seconds left in the game to knock off Maine 57–55. While guard Sarju led the team with 18 points, it was Simpson’s final two points that drew attention. The Bulldogs snapped their three game losing streak without their highest scorer; team leader Halejian sat out with an injury.
“Everyone had to step up [without Halejian], so we just got after it and competed, and it showed when we played Maine,” Sarju said. “They’re a good team, but we kept fighting and never let up. When they were tired, we weren’t. That was the biggest difference.”
Simpson added that her layup came on a broken play, saying that she read the defense and found herself open.
Yale heads back on the road in the new year, taking on St. Peter’s at 7 p.m. on Jan. 13 before conference play begins on Friday against Brown.