I owe the Yale Women’s Basketball team an apology. As I was preparing to do the play-by-play for Saturday’s game against Princeton, I thought that the outlook for the Bulldogs was bleak at best.
I sat in the media room below the bleachers in the John J. Lee Amphitheater and quipped with several other members of the production team: “Would we lose by 40?” “Maybe, maybe not,” the answer came, “But definitely by 30.”
In a purely statistical sense, you couldn’t blame us. Princeton rumbled into the game as an unstoppable force, and Yale has not exactly been an immovable object this season. Princeton waltzed into the contest ranked 16th in the nation and as the only remaining undefeated team in NCAA Division-I Women’s Basketball at 22–0.
Princeton guard Blake Dietrick was recently named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason 30 watch list, and the Tigers have the second-most accurate three-point shooter in the country in guard Michelle Miller.
Yale, on the other hand, has been playing without captain and two-time all-Ivy first-team guard Sarah Halejian ’15, whose Yale career was cut tragically short by an ACL injury in the waning minutes of the team’s Dec. 30 game at Oklahoma.
As the Bulldog’s lone senior, Halejian had the experience — 78 starts heading into this season — and star power that many believed the Bulldogs would have to rely on to survive the gruesome Ivy League schedule. The starting five that the Bulldogs trotted out against the Tigers, by contrast, had started a total of nine games heading into the 2014–15 campaign.
Princeton came in trouncing its opponents by roughly 26 points per game, but from the opening tip this game seemed different. Active defense by the Bulldogs forced turnovers on Princeton’s first two possessions, and guard Tamara Simpson ’18 found fellow guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 on the wing for a triple to give Yale an early 3–0 edge.
The Bulldogs kept pace with Princeton throughout the first half. The lead switched back and forth until Princeton was able to take a 25–22 advantage into the break.
What had become clear to me, as well as everyone else in JLA, was that the Bulldogs weren’t going to go anywhere after halftime. They weren’t going to play dead or roll over just because Princeton came in with all of the accolades and media attention.
Princeton came out of the locker room and built a nine-point lead early in the second half. The Tigers finally looked like the No. 16 team in the country, but Yale wasn’t done. A flurry of threes — including two back-to-back makes by forward Jen Berkowitz ’18, who had made just five shots from beyond the arc coming into the game — pulled Yale back within one. The two teams battled the rest of the way, and though Santucci’s driving lay-up brought Yale back within three with just 32 seconds left, Yale would not score again and Princeton would survive 56–50.
The fact that Yale lost surprised no one. This was a game Yale was not even supposed to come close in, let alone win. But it was the best game of Yale’s season. Those 13 women on the Yale Women’s Basketball team did something that perhaps no one else did — they believed in themselves.
They believed in themselves when they lost Halejian, spinning off a streak of seven straight wins following her injury. They believed in themselves when they got off to Yale’s best start to Ivy play since 1980 with five straight victories. And they believed in themselves when they went into Saturday night’s David vs. Goliath matchup with the Princeton Tigers.
I’m not one to believe in moral victories. The Ivy League’s automatic bid won’t go to the team with the most “almost wins.” In all likelihood, that bid will go to Princeton. But the members of the Yale Women’s Basketball team should be proud of how they played on Saturday, and so should the University they represent. They stood toe-to-toe with a heavyweight for 16 rounds, and they gave just as good as they got.
Ladies, I’m sorry that I ever doubted you, or wrote you off, or came into work wondering what time I’d get out to go grab a late dinner. I promise you that I’ll never do that again.