While the Yale women’s basketball team throttled its opponent in its home opener Sunday morning, playing as a favorite, it was how the Bulldogs responded to the underdog role on Friday that turned heads.
Starting off in Ohio on Friday, the Bulldogs (1–1, 0–0 Ivy) kept up with last season’s Elite Eight contestant Dayton (1–0, 0–0 Atlantic 10) for all 40 minutes, falling 81–75 in a 30-point performance by guard Nyasha Sarju ’16. Rebounding on Sunday afternoon at home, Yale produced a 67–34 win against Albertus Magnus (1–1, 0–0 Great Northeast Athletic) in the first-ever meeting of the two teams.
“We really rose to the occasion and played our hearts out,” guard Lena Munzer ’17 said. “We came out with lots of energy on both ends of the floor.”
Sarju’s 30 points, which came along with nine rebounds for the senior, marked not only the highest in her career, but also the highest for a Yale player since 2004.
From the start of the first quarter against Dayton, the Bulldogs knew that they were up against a tough opponent. The Flyers out-rebounded Yale 12–7, giving them an 18–13 advantage after the end of the first 10 minutes.
Despite falling behind early in the game, the Elis found an offensive surge in the second quarter. Sarju scored 13 of Yale’s 27 points in the quarter to help tie up the game 40–40 by halftime. The Bulldogs’ defense held its opponents to 36.1 percent shooting while themselves shooting over 50 percent, which included going five for 13 from the three-point arc.
Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Yale found itself behind 46–40, but came back with a seven-point run to gain its first lead of both the game and the season.
Down by just two points, 60–58, going into the final quarter, the Bulldogs were able to tie it once again at 71 with just over two minutes left in the contest. Captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 sunk seven points for the Bulldogs, but the Dayton offense pushed into the lead, outscoring the Bulldogs 10–4 in the last few minutes to take the 81–75 win.
“We came out really strong against Dayton and the game was neck-and-neck,” guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “While we didn’t end up getting the [win], it was still a positive experience because it gave us a glimpse of what we are going to be able to accomplish this year.”
Although the game was tight for the majority of time — the score was tied for nine minutes of play — the Elis suffered from 19 turnovers, which numbered five more than the Flyers. Yale shot 42.6 percent from the field as a team, which surpassed Dayton’s 41.3-percent clip, but was out-rebounded 42–36.
A season opener against a top national opponent proved too difficult for first-year head coach Allison Guth to pick up the first win of her tenure, but Guth seized the next opportunity she had when taking on the much weaker Albertus Magnus two days later.
“It’s hard losing a game [after putting] everything into it, but the just loss just made us feel hungrier,” Munzer said. “You could definitely feel that hunger from the start of [the] home opener against Albertus Magnus.”
After their strong performance in Ohio, the Elis set the tone early on with a 16–0 lead and kept their momentum up until the 67–34 finish.
By halftime, Yale had held the Falcons to 12 points, giving the Bulldogs a 21-point advantage going into the second half of the game. In a significantly more balanced showing than the Friday contest in which Sarju tallied 40 percent of Yale points, forward Elizabeth Haley ’17 led the team with seven points at halftime, while forward Katie Werner ’17 posted a team-high seven rebounds going into the third quarter.
The second half continued the offensive dominance for Yale, as Sarju and guard Tamara Simpson ’18 led the team with a combined 21 points in the half. The Elis finished with a 33-point advantage after outscoring the Falcons 34–22 in the final two quarters.
Simpson led the team with 15 points, with Sarju and guard Clara Mokri ’18 following her lead with 12 points each. Also leading the team with seven steals was Simpson, while center Emmy Allen ’16 dominated the boards with 13 rebounds.
With this first weekend of play over, players noted that they are confident moving forward into the rest of the season.
“We proved that we can compete with the top teams in the country,” Mokri said. “People are starting to realize that Ivy League basketball as an entirety is a force to be reckoned with.”
The Bulldogs head to Chapel Hill, North Carolina this upcoming weekend for the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge, where they will face Iona, Farleigh Dickinson and North Carolina.