Currently ranked third in the Ivy League and with only four Ivy games left in the season, the Yale women’s basketball team will have tough back-to-back games this weekend, traveling to face first-place Princeton on Friday and second-place Penn the following day.
Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs (12–12, 6–4 Ivy) lost to the undefeated Tigers by only six points, 56–50, the narrowest margin that No. 14 Princeton (25–0, 9–0) has won a game by throughout its entire season.
“Seeing how close we came to beating Princeton the first time around made our team truly realize how dangerous we could be when all of us are working hard and are playing together,” guard Tamara Simpson ’18 said. “We hope to bring those same concepts and energy to Princeton this weekend to hopefully clinch the win this time.”
The only remaining undefeated team in Division I women’s basketball, Princeton tops the Ivy League in points per game with 77.6 as well as field goal percentage, shooting 49.7 percent. By comparison, the Bulldogs are second to last in both categories, with 60.1 points per game and shooting 36.6 percent.
The Tigers boast four double-digit scoring players, led by senior guard — and five-time winner of the Ivy League Player of the Week honor this season — Blake Dietrick with 14.8 points per game, enough for fifth in the conference. Dietrick, however, was limited to only seven points in the Tigers’ previous game against Yale.
Instead, junior forward Alex Wheatley led Princeton’s offense in the last match, having scored 18 points by herself. Her average of 11.1 points per game is third on the team. Wheatley also tops the Ivy League at 59.8 percent shooting from the field, 17.4 percentage points higher than that of the highest-ranking Bulldog, forward Katie Werner ’17. Joining Wheatley as an offensive threat for the Tigers is junior forward Annie Tarakchian, who poured in 14 points against Yale last time and leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game, enough for second in the league.
If Yale hopes to escape Princeton with the monumental upset, it will need to play stellar pressure defense, something that has been a strength of the Bulldogs all season.
“We hope to dictate tempo and stop Princeton’s transition,” Sarju said. “We think if we play Yale basketball and force them to turn the ball over, we will have a good game and the outcome will come as a result.”
The Quakers (16–7, 7–2) are not a team to be overlooked, currently riding a five-game winning streak and ranking third in the conference with 61.4 points per game. Leading the team in scoring is sophomore center Sydney Stipanovich, who averages 10.7 points per game, two points more than that of Yale’s leading scorer, Simpson. Last season, Stipanovich was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year as well as the Ivy League Rookie of Year, the first player in conference history to have ever won two Player of the Year awards in the same season. In Penn’s last contest against Yale, however, Stipanovich was limited to only six points, the fewest output of Penn’s starting players.
Rather than Stipanovich, 6’3” freshman forward Michelle Nwokedi led Penn in scoring last time around, scoring 13 points of her own. Averaging 8.1 points per game, Nwokedi has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week five times this season and will likely be a major threat on Penn’s offense.
To top the Quakers, the Bulldogs need to follow their game plan in keeping the Quakers from getting mismatches and focus on good offensive rebounding, according to Sarju.
Guard Lena Munzer ’17 added that controlling the pace of the game will also be crucial for the Bulldogs.
“We have been preparing for their zone defense a lot at practice … however, the biggest thing is going to be just inflicting our game on them,” Munzer said. “Last time, we let them come to our home turf and set the pace of the game. We are all really excited to get a second shot at them.”
Tip-off is at 7 p.m. for both games this weekend.