In the final weekend of the season, the Yale women’s basketball team hopes to end a disappointing 2015–16 campaign on a positive note by defeating Cornell and Columbia.
For the seniors, these last two games will be particularly bittersweet as they end their college careers in front of a home crowd. Yale (12–17, 3–9 Ivy) lost to Cornell (14–12, 6–6) and Columbia (12-–15, 1–11) — the Ivy League’s fifth- and seventh-ranked teams — a month ago, but this weekend’s rematches may be more significant to the team’s graduating class.
“These games carry extra weight because it will be the last time I ever get to play with the group of girls that are my best friends at Yale. I’ve played basketball my entire life, so these games will mark the end of an era,” captain and guard Whitney Wyckoff ’16 said. “My parents have only been to two games here, and none of my siblings have been to Yale. I’ll have my parents, three siblings and a few nieces and nephews here, so I am really excited to be able to play my last basketball game on our home court in front of them.”
Forward Nyasha Sarju ’16 shared the sentiment, adding that she was excited for the opportunity to “avenge prior losses” in front of family and friends.
The last time Yale played the Big Red, Cornell won by 11 points in a game in which junior forward Nia Marshall and junior guard Megan LeDuc combined for 38 points. Stopping Marshall will be imperative for the Bulldogs this weekend if they hope to take down Cornell. Marshall is the Ivy League’s most prolific offensive player, averaging 17 points per game and making 46.8 percent of her field goal attempts. Although the Bulldogs did narrowly win the rebound battle, grabbing five more offensive boards than Cornell in last month’s matchup, Yale failed to capitalize. The Bulldogs were outscored 13–5 in second-chance points and shot just 36.9 percent as a team. Tamara Simpson ’18 and Meghan McIntyre ’17 will look to emulate the last meeting, as they matched Marshall and LeDuc with a combined 38 points.
The Cornell defense may also be stronger than its rank — sixth in the conference — suggests. Last week, the Big Red upset Penn, which is tied for first in the conference and was previously undefeated in the Ivy League. Despite the strong performance against the Quakers, the Big Red is coming off of a loss as it was defeated by 37 points against Princeton a day later. Princeton shut down Cornell’s offense, which made just 21 of its 64 shot attempts.
Yale aims to replicate the Tigers’ defensive effort this weekend, as the Elis look to improve their defensive track record: The Bulldogs have allowed their opponents to shoot 41 percent from the floor, the second-highest rate in the Ancient Eight.
“We hope to be much better defensively than the last time we played Cornell and Columbia,” Wyckoff said. “We gave them both too many easy looks, so this time we will be even more prepared to stop them and keep them from getting into a rhythm offensively.”
Columbia’s sole Ivy win this season came against Yale in February. After taking an early first-half lead, the Bulldogs stumbled in the second half, allowing star Lion forward Camille Zimmerman to score 20 points in 20 minutes, including 2–2 shooting from the field and a 7–7 mark from the foul line in the third quarter. The Lions are also bolstered off the bench by junior forward Devon Roeper, who has started just 4 games this season, yet still averages 10 points a game.
Columbia is also coming off two losses against the same pair of teams that Cornell played last weekend. The Lions gave the ball away a combined 34 times in those games and are particularly susceptible to turnovers in general, committing the most on average in the conference. They also have the worst defense in the league, allowing 67.6 points per game, a fact Wyckoff sees as an opportunity for the Elis.
“We need to keep being aggressive offensively because neither team can guard us one-on-one,” Wyckoff said.
Even with two wins this weekend, the Bulldogs will not be able to finish higher than their current ranking, sixth, in the Ivy League, as Cornell, which sits in fifth place, has a three-game advantage.
Tipoff against Cornell is at 7 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s game against Columbia is Senior Night, and that will also begin at 7 p.m.