A year after the Yale women’s basketball team participated in the Great Alaska Shootout during Thanksgiving break, the Bulldogs will limit their travel this time around and remain on the East Coast this season.
Beginning this weekend, Yale will participate in the two-week Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge with matchups against Iona, Fairleigh Dickinson and perennial powerhouse North Carolina.
Coming off a dominant 67–34 win against Albertus Magnus and a tight 81–75 loss to Dayton, who made the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs will look to improve upon their 1–1 record over Thanksgiving break.
“These past two games have been very exciting to see how great our defensive intensity and offensive system are,” forward Meredith Boardman ’16 said.
The three games will take place over three days, before Yale returns home for a midweek contest against Holy Cross in New Haven. The Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge will resume on Sunday, Nov. 29, when Yale takes on West Virginia at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 has been happy with the team’s ability to score early on but the offense has averaged 20 turnovers a game, a number Wyckoff and company will look to minimize.
“We’ve done a good job pushing the ball in transition and looking for quick, easy buckets,” Wyckoff said. “Our offensive execution has also been good, but we definitely need to work on valuing the possession and not turning the ball over.”
The Bulldogs’ (1–1, 0–0 Ivy) first game of the non-conference tournament is Friday night against Iona (0–2, 0–0 MAAC). Iona finished fourth last year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings and this year, the Gaels have had to adjust to the loss of three-time conference player of the year Damika Martinez, a guard who is the all-time leading scorer in the MAAC. The Bulldogs will look to slow down senior forward Joy Adams — a two time All-MAAC first team selection — who has been counted on to fill the scoring void created by Martinez’s graduation.
“Iona is an incredibly athletic and talented ball club,” head coach Allison Guth said. “They are aggressive and run great offense that showcases their multiple scoring threats. We hope to defend in a way that gets them out of their rhythm.”
The next game in the challenge will be against Fairleigh Dickinson (0–1, 0–0 Northeast) on Saturday. The Knights had a mixed season last year, finishing 10–20, but are led by center Erika Livermore, the reigning Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and last week’s Northeast Conference Player of the Week, guard Kelsey Cruz.
Cruz leads the nation in scoring, albeit after one game, thanks to a 41-point effort against Manhattan.
“FDU challenges you to prepare for multiple defensive looks and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Guth said.
After Fairleigh Dickinson, Yale will take on UNC, which has made 13 of the past 14 NCAA Tournaments. The Tarheels are coming off an extremely successful season that saw them finish 26–9 and make it to the Sweet 16 of March Madness. This season, the Tarheels are boosted by the addition of freshman guard Destinee Walker, a five-star recruit who was ranked 17th in her class by ESPN. Walker has already made an impact on the team —in its three games so far this season, she has played the most minutes on the team and is tied for the team lead with 19 points per game.
Despite the high-profile matchup, the Bulldogs do not view this game as any different from the others on their schedule.
“We approach games against big teams like UNC the same as we would any other game. We focus on shutting down their best players and work on our defensive and offensive strategies in practice to counter whatever they might throw at us,” Wyckoff said. “Our motto is ‘respect all, fear none,’ which means preparing for each team as if they are a quality team that can potentially beat you, but knowing that no team is invincible and having confidence that you’ll win the game if you execute the game plan.”
These three games constitute the first leg of the tournament and Yale will play each of its games on North Carolina’s campus.
All proceeds from the tournament benefit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.