After a disappointing middle stretch of the Ivy season, the Yale women’s basketball team ended the 2015–16 campaign with a three-game winning streak, capped off by two wins in the final weekend of conference play.
In their matchup with Cornell (14–14, 6–8 Ivy) on Friday night, the Bulldogs (14–17, 5–9) utilized home-court advantage and a dominant offense, as they never looked back after taking the lead late in the first quarter in an eventual 56–38 win. At John J. Lee Amphitheater again on Saturday night, the four Eli seniors finished their careers with a 67–49 win over Columbia (12–17, 1–13).
“We came ready to play and defend the home court one last weekend with our seniors,” guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “We really wanted to go out with two big wins to end their careers on a high note.”
Yale met Cornell on the road on Feb. 6, where the Bulldogs suffered an 11-point loss to the Big Red. For the first few minutes of Friday night’s contest, Cornell appeared intent to sweep the Bulldogs, scoring six of the game’s first eight points.
The Bulldogs trailed until the 2:54 mark of the first quarter, at which point the game’s leading scorer, guard Lena Munzer ’17, put Yale ahead. Munzer had eight of her 15 points in the first period, propelling the Bulldogs ahead with a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
Entering the second period with only a two-point advantage, Yale was able to hold its opponents to only seven points while scoring 13 to give them more insurance at the half. Forward Jen Berkowitz ’18, who averaged half a block for the season, had three of her career-high four rejections for the game in the second quarter alone, helping the Bulldogs limit the Cornell offense. The Big Red’s 38 points matched a season-low, and the team scored a combined 13 points in the second and third quarters.
Yale did an especially effective job at defending Nia Marshall, who finished the season as the Ivy League’s leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. The Elis held Marshall to eight points on 3–11 shooting, while also forcing the forward to commit three turnovers.
In the first six-and-a-half minutes of the third period, the Big Red was able to shrink the deficit to only four points. However a 12–0 run to close the quarter, led by guard Nyasha Sarju ’16 and forward Katie Werner ’17, rejuvenated Yale heading into the final 10 minutes of regulation.
The Elis carried the momentum of the third quarter into the fourth and scored 16 points, the highest-scoring period of the game for either team. Cornell, too, scored its most points in the fourth, but it was not enough to overcome the double-digit deficit. This gave the Elis their second-straight win, their first such streak since sweeping Brown to open Ivy play.
Munzer led the team with a game-high 15 points against Cornell, followed by Sarju’s 14. Yale outrebounded its opponents 45–32 while also holding the Big Red to 27.8 percent shooting from the field, and just 1–9 shooting from beyond the three-point line.
Saturday night’s game saw a Yale team already riding high off of two consecutive wins play with the added adrenaline of its final game, both at home and overall, of the season. The Bulldogs won by another 18-point margin, ending their season with a three-game winning streak, tied for their longest of the season. Each of the team’s four seniors started — including forward Meredith Boardman ’16, who made her first start of the season after missing the entirety of the campaign due to injury.
Unable to play due to a knee injury, Boardman immediately fouled a Columbia player and exited to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
“We obviously had a lot of emotions with it being Senior Night and especially because Meredith started the game, and we are all just so proud of her for fighting through such adversity and being the most incredible teammate,” Sarju said.
The Bulldogs previously faced the Lions on Feb. 5, a game in which Yale ended up losing by six after a neck-and-neck second half. Although the Bulldogs trailed at the end of the first quarter, they were able to keep the deficit to only two points, setting them up for what would turn out to be an explosive second period.
Guard Tamara Simpson ’18 led the Bulldogs with 10 of her 14 first-half points in the second quarter, putting the Bulldogs ahead by six going into halftime. The first half also saw an aggressive Yale defense again limit a star scorer, as Columbia’s Camille Zimmerman, who leads the team at 14.4 points per game, was held to zero points heading into the third quarter.
The second half opened with the Eli lead widening even more, as Sarju and Simpson combined to score 17 points in the third quarter to aid Yale in outscoring the Lions 21–12. Yale forced seven Columbia turnovers in the third quarter alone, a figure that nearly matched Yale’s 11 for the game.
Going into the final period of the season, the Bulldogs left little doubt that their seniors’ careers would end in a victory as Columbia never cut the deficit below 13 points. Sarju scored another six points to finish with 17 points, her 25th double-digit scoring game of the season. Simpson wound up leading all scorers with 24 points, her fourth 20-plus-point game of the year.
“We had some defensive lapses early but once we started talking more on defense our communication helped us get some big stops,” said Sarju, who finished third in the Ivy League in scoring at 15.8 points per game. “Offensively we did a great job pushing the ball in transition and in the second half our aggressiveness to the basket, especially Tamara’s aggressiveness was huge at getting us going. The second half we were just having fun and playing fearlessly for each other both offensively and defensively.”
Shooting 52.6 percent for the entire second half, Yale finished the night shooting 41.7 percent. Meanwhile, it held Columbia to a 35.6 percent clip from the field.
In its final game of the season, the Elis managed to reduce their turnovers, an issue that popped up throughout the season, to just 11. After averaging more than 16 turnovers per game during its first 25 contests, the Elis averaged only 12 giveaways in their final six.
The 67–49 win sealed the perfect home weekend and solidified the team’s sixth-place standing in the Ivy League.
“We all wanted to honor our four amazing seniors this weekend and really send them off with one last bang,” Munzer said. “Each of them has given this program so much and they have paved the way for this team’s future success. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs this season. Our seniors taught us how to keep fighting, and more importantly, how to enjoy the ride.”