This weekend, the Yale women’s basketball team will look to continue its modest undefeated streak in the Ivy League as it embarks on two consecutive road games against Penn and Princeton.
Friday night, the Bulldogs (11–8, 2–0 Ivy) will play the Quakers (12–3, 1–0), whose only home loss this year came in the season-opener to the then-No. 12 Duke team. Three weeks ago, Penn knocked off Princeton, the defending conference champion, and the Quakers are bolstered by a conference-best defense as well as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. On Saturday, the Elis will travel to New Jersey to play the Tigers (11–4, 0–1), who are on a 19-game home winning streak dating back to the 2013–14 campaign.
“This weekend will be a good test for us, but we are confident that we can win both games if we execute the game plan,” captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 said.
The senior guard added that the team was focusing on fixing small details of its game, including defensive positioning and offensive spacing, in preparation for an impressive Penn team.
Defensively, Penn leads the Ivy League in terms of points allowed and also limits opponents to just 34.2 percent shooting from the field, the second-lowest percentage in the conference. However, the Quakers force the fewest turnovers in the Ancient Eight, a statistic that bodes well for the Bulldogs. A recurring problem throughout the season for the Elis has been their inability to limit their turnover number, which is currently the second worst in the conference at 16.9 per contest.
“Where [Penn] give teams the most difficulty is in their aggressive zone in which they hold teams to very few points on average,” guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 said. “Executing our offense and shifting the zone by attacking the basket will be critical for us as well as playing our up-tempo style and running the floor.”
Meanwhile, the Quaker offense commits the fewest turnovers in the league and is led by sophomore forward Michelle Nwokedi, who was last season’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Nwokedi leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.9 points per game. Right behind the sophomore, at 13.8 points per game, is junior center Sydney Stipanovich, who earned Defensive Player of the Year honors a season ago. Together, Nwokedi and Stipanovich account for nearly 50 percent of Penn’s total offense. The duo also rank first and second, respectively, in the conference in rebounding.
“We are also going to switch up our defenses a little bit to throw them off, and look to get some extra coverage on Stipanovich and Nwokedi,” Wyckoff said. “If we box out and rebound, especially against those two, we will have success.”
Less than 24 hours after the Penn game, the Bulldogs will play Princeton, the defending Ivy League champion who completed a remarkable 30–0 regular season last year en route to the NCAA tournament. However, the Tigers have had to deal with the graduation of last season’s unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year and honorable mention All-American, Blake Dietrick. Despite her absence, the roster is still filled with talent, including a trio of seniors, guards Annie Tarakchian and Michelle Miller and forward Alex Wheatley. The three Tigers all earned All-Ivy recognition last year and each averages more than 10 points a game this year, contributing to Princeton’s prolific scoring offense.
But despite leading the league in scoring as well as field-goal percentage, Princeton has not matched the invincibility of last season. This relative decline was on full display three weeks ago at Penn.
Against Penn, Princeton made only 18 of its 64 field-goal attempts, including just two of its 15 three-point attempts. Turnovers have played a critical role as of late, as the Tigers have averaged 16.6 giveaways over their past five games, of which they have lost three.
For the Bulldogs, these two games are an opportunity to bounce back from last week’s uninspiring victory. After opening the conference portion of its season in commanding fashion in perhaps the team’s best performance of the year two weeks ago, the Bulldogs regressed a bit in a sloppy win at Brown last Friday, which, according to Sarju, reminded the team of the difficulties of playing on the road.
Aware of the challenges posed by the upcoming weekend, all players interviewed still expressed excitement to build on its 2–0 start in league play.
“The team is pumped for conference [play],” guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “No matter who we are playing, we try to go at the game with our same programmatic mindset, style of play and intensity.”
Friday’s game against Penn tips off at the historic Palestra at 7 p.m. Saturday’s game against Princeton begins at 6 p.m.