After a convincing win over Brown last Friday, the Yale women’s basketball team has the chance to even its conference record with back-to-back matchups at home this weekend.
The Elis (10–7, 1–3 Ivy) dominated the Bears in all aspects of the game, converting stifling defense into efficient offense at John J. Lee Amphitheater. The home team will attempt to duplicate that effort on Friday against the odds-on Ivy League Player of the Year favorite Camille Zimmerman and Columbia (11–6, 1–3), another gritty team that has played better than its record indicates. On the back end of the weekend, Yale will battle Cornell (11–6, 2–2), which swept the Lions this year and looks to enter the upper echelon of the Ancient Eight. With a road trip to undefeated Harvard looming the following weekend, the Bulldogs have a prime opportunity to assert their viability in the Ivy League.
“What’s important [is] maintaining momentum, going into the game [and] firing on all cylinders with a lot of energy,” guard Megan Gorman ’20 said. “I think the keys to these next games are just playing to our potential, playing our game. If we play how we can play, we should be able to get two [wins] this weekend. It’s as simple as playing our game.”
Columbia posted its best nonconference record in program history with head coach Megan Griffith in her first year at the helm. After back-to-back losses to the Big Red to open their Ivy campaign, the Lions demonstrated their resilience in a 91–88 quadruple-overtime victory at Dartmouth — the longest game in Ivy League women’s basketball history. The next night, the Lions made up most of a 12-point halftime deficit at Harvard, but fell just short in a 70–68 defeat.
Zimmerman, a 6-foot-1 junior, leads the Ivy League in points per game, rebounds, minutes per game and double-doubles, among other categories. In the marathon win in Hanover, she notched 37 points and 19 rebounds playing 58 out of a possible 60 minutes of action. The extra playing time did not faze her, as Zimmerman followed up that performance with 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists on Saturday night when she logged another 37 minutes in Cambridge.
For her mammoth effort, Zimmerman was named the Women’s National Basketball Player of the Week by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
“This year [Zimmerman] took a really big, significant jump towards [being] … not just good and great in this league — she wants to [be] great in the nation, she wants to be recognized,” Griffith said. “For her, we had a really long talk about buying in and she totally bought in. … We let her make a lot of decisions for us offensively. … For her to have really bought in and trust has really helped us grow as a team.”
The Bulldogs have options in defending Zimmerman. Their energetic zone defense shut down Brown, and the Elis have continued to develop the formation in practice, according to Gorman. If Yale opts to play man-to-man defense, guard Lena Munzer ’17, whom Gorman said “is one of the best defenders in the league,” may draw the matchup, despite a five-inch height disadvantage.
Rebounding will also be a crucial factor in the game, as the Lions have the highest average rebounding margin in the Ancient Eight, grabbing 12.0 more rebounds per game than their opponents. In conference play, the Elis have been outrebounded by nearly four boards per game. But pesky Yale defenders — including the Ivy League steals leader, guard Tamara Simpson ’18 — may be able to negate this advantage by forcing turnovers, as Columbia ranks worst in the Ivies in giving the ball away.
Against Cornell, the Bulldogs will have to adjust their defense to match up against a much more balanced offense. The Big Red features an all-senior starting lineup with three starters averaging over 10.8 points per game. Even more impressively, all three of these players have so far averaged over 13.5 points per game in conference play.
Although Yale’s Saturday-night opponent sits fifth in conference scoring, Cornell owns the most efficient offense in the Ancient Eight. The Big Red leads in both overall field-goal shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage while boasting the second highest assist-to-turnover ratio.
Still, the team from Ithaca has faced problems on the glass, averaging the lowest number of rebounds per game in the conference. If Yale can carry over the attention to rebounding that it will need against Columbia, the Bulldogs should have the advantage on the boards for the second game of their back-to-back. To overcome this rebounding disadvantage and try to pull out a win on the road, Cornell will lean on its team’s experience. With the second-longest tenured coach in the Ivy League and a senior-laden lineup, the visitors offer a stark contrast to Brown, Yale’s most recent opponent, which featured no seniors on its roster.
“Experience is something great it have, [but] it doesn’t necessarily earn you a victory,” Cornell head coach Dayna Smith said. “It should help us down tough moments and stretches in games. … It is a plus, [the players] know each know each other offensively, they’re able to click in time and they can understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and play off of that.”
Ultimately, Saturday night’s contest pits two very similarly balanced and experienced teams against one another. If both Yale and Cornell play to their potential, the game may come down to a young role player stepping up in a primetime Ivy League matchup.
The Bulldogs will look to sweep Columbia and Cornell at home for the sixth consecutive year on Friday and Saturday night at 6 p.m.