The Yale women’s basketball team takes on Brown in the back half of its home-and-home as it seeks to earn its first conference win in just its fifth home game of the season.
In the first meeting between the Bulldogs (9–7, 0–3 Ivy) and the Bears (11–5, 2–1) last week, a dismal start from Yale contributed to a three-point victory for the team from Providence. The Elis will attempt to avoid a similar outcome when they take the court at John J. Lee Amphitheater, where they are 3–1 this year. Brown, looking to sweep the season series against Yale, will bring its trademark high-scoring offense to the table, which the Elis must combat with defensive intensity and offensive efficiency from the tip.
“I think what we could learn from last game is that we can’t really give them any hope,” guard Lena Munzer ’17 said. “Especially in that first quarter, … they had 21 points, and for a team like Brown, that’s going to seep into their energy so much. I think going into this Friday’s [game] we have to bring a whole 40-minute effort and bring out the first punch in the first quarter.”
In its first two Ivy League games of the season, Yale struggled to put together a comprehensive performance, resulting in an 0–2 conference start. The same story played out against Brown last Friday, as the Bulldogs’ lackluster first 20 minutes overshadowed a great second-half performance. The Elis will look for a better start in this upcoming game with a renewed focus on pregame details.
Both Munzer and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 alluded to the importance of warmups in setting the tone of energy for the contest. At Brown last Friday, both guards noticed a relative lack of vigor and enthusiasm as the team took shots before the game and pointed to this lethargy in explaining the Elis’ slow start after tip-off.
But even with a good start, the Bulldogs will have to play out an entire 40 minutes of quality basketball, closer to the kind they played in the latter stages of the first game at Brown. The Elis’ switch to a zone defense in the second half at Brown last Friday closed up the holes that had allowed the Bears to penetrate early on and created 15 turnovers in the last 20 minutes of action. In the fourth quarter, Brown went scoreless for nearly six minutes, unable to break through against the Bulldogs defense.
In the rematch, Yale will feature the zone from the beginning, although dynamic game-planning and new looks are a hallmark of head coach Allison Guth’s approach.
“We’re definitely going to be playing a lot of zone again … probably from the get-go, as opposed to only in the second half,” Santucci said. “I think we might start out in some zone and some … full-court pressure to slow them down, but falling back into a zone, for sure. And [we will] probably mix up the defense, too, to keep them on their heels.”
Prioritizing defense will be key for Yale, as the Bears are the highest-scoring team in the Ancient Eight. Brown’s senior-less roster nevertheless brings firepower, ranking first in the league in field goal percentage and second in three-point shooting. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are sixth and seventh in those categories, respectively.
Freshman guard Justine Gaziano has taken the conference by storm, dropping 19.2 points per game — good for second in the Ivies — with the highest field goal percentage in the league. Guard Shayna Mehta led the Bears with 20 points last weekend, earning Co-Ivy League Player of the Week honors, and both she and forward Taylor Will score at average more points per game than Munzer, the Elis’ leading scorer.
Yale’s aggressive defense has proved very successful in snippets of games — guard Tamara Simpson ’18, who set the program’s single-season record for steals last year, had six steals in the second half last Friday — but the team has struggled to sustain this style of play for a whole game.
“Really, no matter if we play man or zone or whatnot, it just comes down to … our energy,” Munzer said. “We could be in any defense — if we have more energy than them, and we let our defense fuel our energy instead of our offense, we’re going to be in good shape.”
With just one possession deciding the teams’ meeting in Providence, another close contest is expected in the rematch, where Yale’s shaky free-throw shooting could be pivotal. The Bulldogs are shooting just 60.7 percent from the charity stripe this season, the lowest rate in the Ivy League. Brown has converted 99 more free throws on the season and connects on 71.6 of its attempts.
“Since it was such a close game, it could have come down to free throws,” forward Bronwyn Davies ’20 said. “We’ve been working on that in practice, just making sure that if it were to be a close game again — and we’re hoping that it’s not going to be — we’ll have … done everything we could [have] from that front.”
The Bulldogs will put all of these adjustments to the test at 5:30 p.m. Friday night in Payne Whitney Gymnasium.