The Yale women’s basketball team will look to snap its six-game losing streak this weekend, when it plays Penn and Princeton, the top two teams in the Ivy League.
With only six games remaining this season, the Bulldogs (11–14, 2–6 Ivy) have a small margin for error if they want to improve upon last year’s 7–7 conference record. However, this weekend’s opponents will not make that an easy task. Yale first plays Princeton (17–4, 6–1), last year’s conference champion, at home Friday night, before taking on Penn (18–3, 7–0), this year’s league leader, on Saturday.
“We are all human and it is natural to have doubts creep in after a stretch of disappointing losses,” head coach Allison Guth said. “It is my job as our leader to stay the course and address both the mental and physical aspects of the game, [so] this week our coaching staff will be creative in finding ways to improve our mentality by holding each member of our family accountable.”
She added that with a new staff, there have been some “growing pains” associated with building the foundation of a successful program, though the team did perform well in competitive losses to strong nonconference opponents such as Dayton and North Carolina.
However, the Bulldogs’ only Ivy wins this season have come against Brown, which is tied with Columbia for last place in the conference standings. Last weekend, the Bulldogs squandered a pair of 20-point leads against Dartmouth and Harvard, unable to seal either victory after a pair of strong first halves. Yale will need to execute for all 40 minutes if the team hopes to come away from this weekend with at least one win.
“I think it’s important for us to go into both games with a focus on valuing the possession, executing our offense and setting the pace of the game overall,” guard Tamara Simpson ’18 said. “Our goal is to play Bulldog basketball in each game and play without fear.”
Yale last played Princeton three weeks ago on the road, losing 65–50. The Bulldogs kept pace with the Tigers, who went a perfect 30–0 in the regular season last year, through the first half, but their momentum was halted in the second half. Despite poor shooting — the Bulldogs hit just 31.7 percent of their field-goal attempts, compared to 51 percent for the Tigers — the Yale defense did force 25 turnovers, the highest number Princeton has committed all season. The Bulldogs were able to capitalize on the Tiger miscues, scoring 27 points off turnovers, and Yale will look for similar success this weekend.
Since playing Yale, Princeton has averaged 83.5 points a game, and its overall average of 74.9 points per contest is the highest in the conference. The consistency of its trio of seniors, guards Michelle Miller and Annie Tarakchian and forward Alex Wheatley, plays a large role in this success, as each of the three averages more than 10 points per game.
Captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 said the Bulldogs would look to play aggressively on offense against the Tigers after struggling from the field the last time around.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will host the Quakers, who beat Yale by 19 points last month. Despite the team’s undefeated record in conference play, Penn ranks just second-to-last in scoring offense, averaging 62.8 points per game. The Quakers do, however, boast the best Ivy defense, led by two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Sydney Stipanovich, a junior center. Penn leads the conference in both scoring defense and field-goal percentage allowed.
Stipanovich also ranks first in the Ivy League in rebounds, at over 10 boards per game.
“[Last game against Penn], we learned that we have to show up right out of the gates,” Guth said. “Penn is too talented to not put yourself in position early by digging in on the defensive end to win the game. We did not share the ball well versus Penn’s zone [defense], and got stagnant by taking lower percentage shots.”
A win against either opponent would throw a wrench into both teams’ pursuits of an Ivy League championship.
The Bulldogs recognize their position as underdogs in these two games, but Wyckoff said the team hopes to play spoiler.
“Overall, we just want to play our best basketball and show the Ivy League the real Yale team, which no one besides Brown has really seen yet,” Wyckoff said.
Friday’s game against Princeton starts at 7 p.m. in Lee Amphitheater. Twenty-four hours later, the Bulldogs play Penn at 7 p.m., also at home.