Irene Jiang

Returning home for the first time in five games, the Yale women’s basketball will also look to return to its winning ways with a pair of games against Dartmouth and Harvard.

After disappointing losses against Columbia and Cornell last weekend which extended the Bulldogs’ losing streak to four games, Yale (11–12, 2–4 Ivy) hopes its dominance thus far at home — the team is 8–1 in New Haven — will help snap the losing skid. To do so, the Elis will have to shore up their defense, after a couple of poor efforts on that end of the floor. While Columbia and Cornell are top-four offenses in the Ivy League, the Big Green (7–15, 2–4) and the Crimson (8–11, 3–3) rank eighth and sixth, respectively, in scoring and field-goal percentage.

“After this past weekend we realized how much we need to improve defensively,” guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 said. “So our focus has mainly been on fixing our defensive deficiencies and really becoming confident in our ability to lock down the way we know how.”

Yale head coach Alison Guth added that the team members felt like they underachieved last weekend and needed to regain confidence in this weekend’s games.

Dartmouth boasts two players who average more than 10 points per game, sophomore guard Kate Letkewicz and senior forward Lakin Roland, who Guth called “the heart and soul of [Dartmouth’s] offensive production.” Letkewicz was named the Ivy League Player of the Week three weeks ago for her 26-point, 17-rebound performance against Harvard. Roland, who earned All-Ivy recognition last season, ranks fourth in the Ivy League in scoring, at 15.3 points per game. However, beyond Letkewicz and Roland, the Big Green offense struggles — last in the Ivy League in scoring offense, it trails the next nearest team by nearly 10 points per game.

“We can expect to see a tough team who fights for 40 minutes,” Guth said.  “Dartmouth likes to spread the floor and … attack defenders one-[on]-one. I’m impressed with the way Dartmouth is coached and how they do not give up on any possession.”

The Big Green are also on a losing streak, having allowed an average of 71 points in three consecutive losses. Dartmouth’s last win came away against Columbia on Jan. 29, a 76–73 thriller in overtime.

If history serves as any indication, the Bulldogs have had an edge lately, having won the past five meetings in the series. That streak includes a memorable victory last year on senior night, when Yale limited Dartmouth to a season-low 28 points in a sound 53–28 victory. A win can help Yale separate itself from the Big Green, as the two teams are currently tied for fifth place in the Ivy League.

Twenty-four hours later, the Bulldogs will play their biggest rival, Harvard. Coming off an overtime 92–83 loss to Princeton, last year’s undefeated Ivy League champion, the Crimson will nonetheless look to build off its highest scoring effort of the season. Senior guards Shilpa Tummala and Kit Metoyer, as well as senior forward AnnMarie Healy, make up Harvard’s trio of scoring threats who combined for 49 points against Princeton. Healy ranks third in the conference, at 16 points per game. She is also third in field-goal percentage, making 50.8 percent of her attempts from the floor. Freshman guard Nani Redford has also made her mark on the team, having started each of the last 16 games. Guth said she was particularly impressed with Redford’s “high motor.”

“Offensively, we must push the tempo and execute in the front court,” Guth said. “Harvard loves to push the ball in transition. We truly are going to have to be dialed in on our assignments with transition defense to be successful on Saturday.”

Yale has an opportunity to break out offensively, as the Crimson defense allows the most points per game and the highest field-goal percentage in the Ancient Eight. This presents an opportunity for Sarju and guard Tamara Simpson ’18, Yale’s high-scoring duo.

Sarju ranks fifth in the conference at 15.1 points per game, while Simpson is second on the team at 10.4 points per contest. Yale will also receive a boost, as captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 — leading the team in both assists and rebounds — said she will return to the court after missing Saturday’s game against Cornell due to injury.

“Harvard also has some offensive weapons both in the guard and post position, but they have a lot of breakdowns defensively which we will look to expose,” Wyckoff said.

The Bulldogs have not beaten the Crimson since the 2011–12 season, when Yale split the series thanks to a road win in Cambridge. Harvard has emerged victorious in seven straight meetings against Yale.

For the four Bulldog seniors, this season’s two contests provide the final opportunities to earn a victory over the Crimson.

“Our team has been taught to be prepare for a ‘faceless opponent’ and to really place [its] attention to valuing what we do programmatically,” Guth said.  “However, I think it is fair to say that the relevance in the storied rivalry adds an extra competitive spirit to Saturday’s matchup.”

Tip-off at John J. Lee Amphitheater against Dartmouth is set for 7 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, at 7 p.m., the Bulldogs will take on the Crimson.