The Yale women’s basketball team made the most of a busy Thanksgiving break, earning victories in three of the team’s five contests played in both North Carolina and Connecticut.
The Bulldogs (4–3, 0–0 Ivy) first traveled south to Chapel Hill to compete in the first leg of the Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge, an annual showcase event that included eight teams this season. Over a three-day period, Yale overpowered Iona and Fairleigh Dickinson with ease before falling to host and perennial powerhouse North Carolina in a close loss on Sunday, Nov. 22. The Bulldogs then returned home during the week, defeating Holy Cross at Yale on Wednesday before losing against another power-conference opponent, West Virginia, on Sunday at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Regardless of the caliber of the opposing team, we consistently came out of the gates hard, challenged defensively and executed offensively,” guard Tamara Simpson ’18 said. “There were lapses when the other teams went on runs, but this year especially we have been really good at refocusing in order to stop the other team, [fixing] our mistakes and [making] runs of our own.”
Yale never trailed in its 63–48 win over Iona (1–5, 0–0 Metro Atlantic), which saw three Bulldogs score in double figures. Entering the contest averaging 21 points a game, guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 continued her hot start to the season by leading the team with 19 points, a game-high, while forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 added 10 and 12 points, respectively. Berkowitz also posted 11 rebounds to complete her first double-double of the season. Neither side shot particularly well from the field — Yale hit 33.9 percent of its attempts as compared to 29.9 percent for Iona — but the Bulldogs were able to capitalize on trips to the free-throw line, making 16 of 19 attempts while Iona made just six of 10.
Against Fairleigh Dickinson (1–4, 0–0 Northeast), the Bulldogs one-upped themselves with four players scoring in double figures in the 77-58 win. In addition to Sarju, who again led all scorers in points with 14, forward Katie Warner ’17, guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 and center Emmy Allen ’16 each added at least 10 points. Defensively, the Bulldogs limited senior guard Kelsey Cruz, the Knights’ leading scorer who averages 19.6 points per game this season, to just eight points on the evening.
The Bulldogs only committed 12 turnovers against the Knights — the first time all season their turnover count has dropped below 15. Despite these improved numbers over the break, members of the team acknowledged that the season average of 17.4 per game has been one of their primary pitfalls.
“A major focus for our team has been to cut down on our turnover rate,” Simpson said. “In order to do so, it really takes a team effort and a dedication to value each possession.”
Wyckoff echoed Simpson’s evaluation of attention to detail, adding that the team still needs to work on executing its transition defense while also committing to a “one and done mentality” by limiting opponents’ offensive rebounds.
In its third game in three days, Yale played the Tar Heels (4–3, 0–0 Atlantic Coast), who have made the NCAA tournament in 13 of the last 14 years, including a run to the Sweet 16 last season. Although the Bulldogs remained within striking distance of UNC for much of the contest, they were not content with the 70–63 loss.
“We do not feel like we gave ourselves the best opportunity to win against North Carolina,” Sarju said. “We left a lot of points at the free-throw line, turned the ball over too much and struggled to knock down shots.”
Yale made just 46.7 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe, leaving Wyckoff to say that the team could and should have won the game.
Despite the loss, Sarju said the game still served as a confidence-builder despite the number of mistakes made and the caliber of Yale’s opponent. Besides leaving points at the line, Yale shot just 36.4 percent from the field and yet was still just five points behind with 2:05 remaining in the contest.
Following the exhausting weekend of action, the Bulldogs took a short break from the eight-team event to fly back to New Haven and return to their winning ways against Holy Cross (1–5, 0–0 Patriot). Once again, four Bulldogs scored in double figures to propel Yale to a 69–59 victory. Wyckoff recorded a double-double while Sarju led the team in scoring for the fifth time in six games.
Throughout the first half, momentum shifted back and forth between Yale and Holy Cross, with the lead changing five times. Yale trailed for the majority of the third quarter, but the Bulldogs outscored the Crusaders 22–9 in the fourth, bolstered by nine points from Sarju and two three-pointers from guard Meghan McIntyre ’17 in the final period.
Yale survived a 26-point outburst from the Crusaders’ captain and leading scorer Raquel Scott, her second-highest total for the season and the most Yale has allowed a single player in the seven games this year. On top of Scott’s prolific scoring day, Yale coughed up the ball 22 times, its highest count of the season.
Four days following the victory over Holy Cross, the Bulldogs drove an hour east to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut to play the final leg of the Challenge against West Virginia (4–2, 0–0 Big 12). In its fifth and final game of the Thanksgiving break, Yale dropped a 70–60 affair, again coming tantalizingly close to an upset of a power-five conference opponent. West Virginia, which has made seven of the past nine NCAA Tournaments, found itself just three points ahead of Yale with 1:04 remaining after Simpson split a pair of free throws. However, the Mountaineers outscored Yale 7–0 in the final minute of action to pull away for the victory.
Wyckoff led Yale with 15 points, including a 7–8 day from the free-throw line, but the Bulldogs could not overcome a combined 38 points from reserve Teana Muldrow and New Haven native Bria Holmes.
Following the three-win week, the Bulldogs will continue their nonconference schedule Tuesday night against Manhattan in the Bronx.