Following a winless weekend against the Ivy League’s elite teams, the Yale women’s basketball team will look to earn its first conference win at Brown on Friday night.
Though the Bulldogs (9–6, 0–2 Ivy) and Bears (10–5, 1–1) finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Ancient Eight last season, both have improved since the 2015–16 campaign and may be on the brink of legitimately contending in conference play. Yale and its aggressive defense kept pace with defending Ivy champion Penn and runner-up Princeton for the bulk of the matchups last weekend, but struggled to close out both games. Brown, meanwhile, possesses a high-octane offense — fueled by freshman guard Justine Gaziano — that overcame the Tigers in a blistering 98–88 win last Friday, its first win at Princeton since 2003.
“[Brown] has a lot of players who have stepped up to different roles this year that we didn’t see last year, [and] they have some good freshmen coming,” guard Lena Munzer ’17 said. “But we have the same thing — we have great freshmen, we have great players … We respect Brown as a team, but we’re not afraid of them. We’re really hungry for this one. After this weekend, we’re really hungry to get our first conference win, to get the ball rolling.”
The game in Providence will center on the battle for control of the game’s pace. The Elis average just 62.3 points per game this season but allow 60.9 points, a stinginess stemming from head coach Allison Guth’s emphasis on high-energy, in-your-face pressure. Yale has won six games when it has scored 68 or fewer points, while Brown has been victorious on just two such occasions.
Head coach Sarah Behn leads a young roster in her third season at Brown, with her top seven scorers all underclassmen. Gaziano has especially shone, leading the team with 19.4 points per game as a rookie. The added pressure of conference play did not intimidate her, as she notched 33- and 24-point games in her Ivy debut weekend. Her efforts against Princeton and Penn earned her first Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
The Bears’ offensive attack has improved significantly from the last time it faced Yale, when the Bulldogs swept last season’s series and held Brown to fewer than 55 points in both contests. This year, Yale must make adjustments to limit and respond to Brown’s scoring sprees, as the Bears now have the capacity to score in droves.
“The Ivy League is full of good teams, and teams are going to go on runs,” guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “Being able to [stop] the bleeding when things aren’t going our way, if they hit a few big shots, [and being] prepared for that and ready to get them right back [is something to work on]. Brown has a lot of weapons this year — some good freshmen, a lot of shooters — so [we need to] be ready to face them and give whatever they give us right back.”
The inability to minimize these runs cost the Elis against Penn and Princeton last weekend. In one quarter in each game, Yale struggled through prolonged scoring droughts and could not turn the tide in time to keep the games within reach.
The Quakers turned a seven-point lead at halftime into a 19-point advantage after the third quarter, and Yale’s strong comeback in the final 10 minutes came up short. The following night, an even larger burst from Princeton in the fourth quarter erased a seven-point Bulldog lead.
Yale’s pair of losses to start conference play exposed several deficiencies that will need to be corrected for Yale to win against the Bears.
“We’re definitely going to work on valuing possession and executing what we need to execute,” guard Megan Gorman ’20 said. “[Also] working hard in transition, both on offense and defense, and especially transition defense off of live-ball turnovers, just to make sure that we can scramble and recover and not let things stack up on us.”
The Bulldogs will likewise need a resurgence from one of their go-to options in the early season in forward Jen Berkowitz ’18. Yale’s primary inside presence had a down weekend after a hot start in nonconference play, but Berkowitz looks to return to form against Brown’s standout forward Erika Steeves.
Playing on teams mostly dominated by perimeter play, either Berkowitz or Steeves could prove to be the difference on Friday night. The two forwards are each averaging over 11 points and six rebounds per game and are the lone true front court players in their respective starting lineups.
Yale has dominated the Bears in Providence in recent memory, having won the past six meetings at the Pizzitola Sports Center. Still, the Bulldogs know that they must be focused when they travel to Brown.
“There’s a different feel going into Ivy League [play],” Gorman said. “It is conference season and these games definitely are more important so the intensity is definitely ramped up. … I don’t think any team in the Ivy League is a slouch, so it’s something that you always need to mentally prepare for.”
Yale and Brown will tip off the first of consecutive meetings at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.