Tasked with beating the top two teams in the Ivy League, Penn and Princeton, the Yale women’s basketball team failed twice this weekend, stretching its losing streak to eight consecutive contests.
In both games, the Bulldogs (11–16, 2–8 Ivy) were unable to overcome poor first-half performances with improved second-half showings, falling 94–81 to Princeton (19–4, 8–1) and 77–59 to Penn (20–3, 9–0). Despite the losses, there were bright spots for the Bulldogs: Guards Nyasha Sarju ’16 and Tamara Simpson ’18 combined for a total of 54 points against the Tigers.
“We [were] playing the two best teams in the league and you can’t put together 20 minutes of a game and expect to win, [which is] what we did,” Sarju said. “We put together good second halves but not very good first halves.”
By the end of the first half against Princeton, Yale was trailing by 22 points, which Sarju attributed to lack of defensive attention. Tiger senior guard Annie Tarakchian, a first-team All-Ivy selection last season, paced the Tigers, scoring 10 points in the first quarter alone. Although Sarju was right behind her with eight, the Bulldogs could not keep up in the second quarter. Yale scored just 10 points on 3–16 shooting and was almost outscored by another senior Princeton guard, Michelle Miller, who scored nine in the period behind three three-pointers.
Although the Bulldogs came out firing in the second half, they were unable to overcome the first-half deficit. Simpson and Sarju combined for 23 points in the third quarter, as Yale edged the Tigers 28–20 in the period. Simpson went on to score 22 points in 17 minutes of action in the half, and a layup by the sophomore guard cut the deficit to eight with 4:53 remaining but the Tigers were able to hold on for the win. Princeton forward Alex Wheatley and guards Michelle Miller and Amanda Berntsen combined for 61 points in one of the team’s best offensive performances of the year.
The Bulldog offense also impressed against Princeton, scoring a season-high 81 points against a Tiger defense, which on average only allows 58.2 points per game. Simpson’s performance in particular was remarkable, as she scored a game- and career-high 28 points. However, an undisclosed injury suffered during the game kept her out of action Saturday night.
Against the Tigers, the Bulldogs also played their cleanest game in six years, committing just seven turnovers, the lowest total since at least the 2008–09 season. At the same time, the Bulldogs forced 17 Princeton turnovers and scored 15 points off of them.
“We outscored them in the second half, and made it tough for them to execute their offense,” Simpson said. “If we hadn’t dug ourselves in such a hole in the second quarter and had that same dedication in both halves, the outcome would have been very different.”
The story was much the same against the Quakers. The Bulldogs allowed an astounding 31 points off of 80 percent Quaker shooting in the first quarter, putting the Elis in a 13-point hole despite 53.8 percent shooting. In Simpson’s place, guard Lena Munzer ’17 led the way for the Elis, scoring 20 points in her first start of the season and playing for all 40 minutes. She hit all three of her attempts from beyond the arc in the first period and finished the evening 7–10 from deep. Despite her career-best scoring output, Yale could not keep pace with the Quakers, who shot 71.4 percent in the first half to build a 28-point advantage by halftime.
Penn was led by the stellar efforts of Kasey Chambers, as the junior guard knocked down nine of her 11 attempts from the floor en route to a game-high 25 points.
Chambers capitalized on open space created by the presence of center Sydney Stipanovich and forward Michelle Nwokedi, two of the premier post players in the league. The duo entered the weekend averaging a double-double, though Nwokedi was held to five rebounds on Saturday, dropping her season average to 9.8 boards per game.
“Both Princeton and Penn have incredibly strong and powerful posts, the best posts in the league,” said guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18, who added a team-high five assists off the bench. “This caused us to cater our game plan to them, and to really work on packing our defense into the paint. Unfortunately, this meant that shooters were left more open, and both [Princeton and Penn] were really hot from the [three-point line]. Against both teams, we were helping off the point guards, and to our dismay both of the respective point guards happened to shoot lights out from the three.”
In the second half, the Yale offense did much better against the league’s best defense, outscoring Penn 33–23. Sarju said that she was particularly impressed with forwards Jen Berkowitz ’18 and Katie Werner ’17, who combined to score 16 points and grab seven rebounds off the bench in the final 20 minutes.
Another large discrepancy came in the form of turnovers. The Quakers were able to capitalize off of Yale’s mistakes, scoring 22 points off of Yale giveaways. By contrast, the Bulldogs scored just two points off of Quaker turnovers.
After this weekend’s games, the Quakers still sit atop conference standings, undefeated with only five league tests remaining. Meanwhile, Yale sits in sixth, one game ahead of Brown and Columbia.