It took a gritty, physical effort and five extra minutes, but the Yale women’s basketball team won its sixth straight game on Saturday with a 64–53 overtime victory over Albany at the John J. Lee Amphitheater.
The Bulldogs (7–2, 0–0 Ivy) did not trail in the game until 1:37 into overtime — the first time in the last 93 minutes of play that Yale faced a deficit. The Great Danes (3–5, 0–0 America East) mounted a strong comeback in the second half amidst a stagnant stretch for the Elis, punctuated by a deep three pointer from guard Jessica Féquière with five seconds left to force overtime. But Yale’s aggressive defense triumphed as it held Albany to just two points in the extra period to seal the win.
“[Albany has] aggressive pressure defense — their rebounding is really intense — so I think our kids did a really great job tonight competing and being the aggressor,” head coach Allison Guth said. “When we could have closed it out in regulation, [we found] a way to have the mentality to come out and be the aggressor when it was tied up there in the fifth quarter.”
Guard Lena Munzer ’17 sparked Yale’s offense early in its fourth game of the week, hitting two quick threes to fuel an 8–2 run to open the contest against Albany. Forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 also found early success despite Albany’s pressure defense, and her inside game added six points to the Bulldogs’ 18–13 first-quarter lead.
The Great Danes cut their deficit to three at 22–19, but the Elis responded in the latter part of the second quarter and went into halftime up 29–21. Both sides played intense, physical defense that contributed to the low-scoring affair.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on: our defensive intensity,” Munzer said. “We know that if we get it done on that end and if we have high energy … that’s going to translate into transition buckets and easy buckets.”
After halftime, though, Yale could not muster any of that energy on its offensive end. It took six lost turnovers and more than five minutes of play before the Bulldogs registered a point in the third quarter, when Munzer used a spin move to convert a layup and keep her team in front 31–28. Third quarters have caused headaches for Yale earlier in the season, as the Elis performed poorly in the period in games against Manhattan and Army.
After a timeout with 1:11 left in the period, Berkowitz hit a reverse layup off the bounce and guard Tamara Simpson ’18 drove to the hoop for a lay-in to bring the Elis’ lead back to 40–34.
“I don’t want [slow third-quarter starts] to be our theme,” Guth said. “We talk about constantly throwing the first punch and having that mentality. I don’t have the answer for it yet. … I think [we] come out aggressive, but we might just take too quick of a shot. We didn’t value the possession out of the third quarter in this one.”
A finger roll from Simpson gave the Bulldogs a 49–43 advantage with just over three minutes left in regulation, but sloppy play — including four turnovers, four consecutive missed free throws and several ill-advised fouls — contributed to a late surge from the Great Danes. Féquière -— who recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds in the absence of injured Albany leading scorer Imani Tate — scored her team’s final eight points in regulation, including the deep three-pointer to tie the game at 51–51.
The Elis’ offensive struggles continued in the early part of overtime — neither team scored for the first 97 seconds — but Berkowitz ultimately proved too much for Albany to handle, using inside position to draw key fouls after her defender, starting Albany forward Heather Forster, fouled out with 2:25 to play. Berkowitz hit three key free throws, putting Yale up 56–53 and capping her first double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
With Albany within one possession and still threatening, guard Meghan McIntyre ’17 drained her first three-pointer of the game from the corner to put the game out of reach for the Great Danes.
“It felt good to finally hit one, especially when it counted in overtime,” McIntyre said. “I was really happy and it put us in a comfort zone at the end of the game.”
McIntyre scored just five points and attempted an uncharacteristically low number of shots in the contest, but her make from beyond the arc came at the game’s most crucial juncture.
Though the team won handily on both ends of a back-to-back stretch last Wednesday and Thursday, Yale’s tight contest with Albany was not its first such game this season. The Bulldogs eked out a 71–70 overtime win at Holy Cross on Nov. 27, which Munzer said helped the team maintain its composure against the Great Danes.
“We’re a young team,” Munzer said. “We’re learning to stay poised in those situations and [learning to] play to win and not play to not lose; there’s a big difference between those two. Having Holy Cross under our belts coming into this overtime, we were a lot more confident and had a lot more poise.”
Yale will look to extend its winning streak to seven games when the Bulldogs host Boston College on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.