Courtesy of Steve Musco
After a promising win on Jan. 27, the Yale women’s basketball team took two frustrating steps backwards over the weekend.
The Bulldogs (10–9, 1–5, Ivy) started off their disappointing weekend with a home game against Columbia (12–7, 2–4) that was close until a flagrant foul call turned the tide in the visitors’ favor toward a 72–68 final. Apart from the disputed call, Yale failed to slow down a Columbia offense that was efficient and timely throughout the matchup.
The Blue’s struggles continued the following night when it lost to Cornell (12–7, 3–3) in a one-sided 76–63 stomp. The Big Red led the game from tip to final whistle to cap off a winless weekend for Yale and sink the Bulldogs into a tie for last place in the Ivy League.
“I don’t think it’s what we’re necessarily running, it’s just the execution of [our game plan], the aggressiveness of it,” head coach Allison Guth said. “I believe in our kids, and I believe in this program. We’re in a place where you take a couple losses — and especially a tough loss [to Columbia] — and we’re not … shaking it off and then going after it the next day. We’re letting things linger, and we [need] to get out of it. We’re a better team than we’re playing like right now.”
Offensive stagnation hampered the Bulldogs the entire weekend, starting with a nearly-three-minute scoreless drought to start the game against Columbia. Forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 was the lone offensive bright spot, executing in the paint for a career-high 21 points in just 24 minutes on 7–12 shooting. But guard Lena Munzer ’17, the Elis’ top scorer this season, was whistled for two quick fouls that sent her to the bench with 6:09 to play in the first quarter, where she stayed for the remainder of the first half.
The Lions maintained a consistent but surmountable lead in a slow second quarter and entered the break up 28–23. The visitors found success running their offense through Camille Zimmerman, the leading scorer in the Ancient Eight. The junior stalwart finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Yale’s newly adopted zone defense.
“[Against the zone, we talk about] finding gaps [and] being smart,” Columbia head coach Megan Griffith said. “[We] look for the skips in the corners. Basically, when you play against the zone you just have to go where somebody isn’t.”
Both offenses awoke in the third quarter, erupting for 24 points apiece. Munzer returned for the Bulldogs, but it was Berkowitz who dictated the charge, scoring seven of the first eight Eli points to start the period. The forward’s three-point play with 8:18 remaining gave the Blue its first lead since 2–0 at 29–28.
The Lions mounted an impressive response, however, led by two opportune corner three-pointers from senior guard Emily Surloff. Zimmerman hit key baskets to fend off Yale’s surge, and Columbia took a 52–47 advantage into the final 10 minutes of action.
Another spurt from the Elis culminated in a spinning Berkowitz layup that sent Zimmerman to the floor to even the score at 53. No foul was initially called, but the referees whistled the play dead and went to the video replay, halting Yale’s momentum. After a lengthy break, Berkowitz’s shot was erased on account of a flagrant foul. Zimmerman hit both ensuing technical foul shots, and the Lions converted a quick layup on the next possession for a six-point swing that carried Columbia to its 72–68 victory.
“We missed some assignments against Surloff, who’s a great three-point shooter [and] gave up too many shot opportunities early,” Guth said. “From an offensive standpoint, I really didn’t like how we came out; we didn’t have much zest, we didn’t have much flow to what we were trying to do.”
The Elis returned to their home court the following night, looking to avenge their close loss against the Lions. Yale squared off against Cornell, who had just lost to Brown on Friday, but the Bulldogs struggled for long stretches of play in a game that was dominated by the visiting side.
The Big Red jumped out to a quick lead and shut the door on the Bulldogs early. From the start, the senior frontcourt tandem of Nia Marshall and Nicholle Aston dominated the paint for Cornell. Yale started out in man defense but audibled quickly to its zone in an attempt to throw off the interior duo. Unfazed, Marshall and Aston tallied 11 points and 10 points, respectively, in the first half.
“I was just thinking to get my teammates involved and just playing hard in general,” Marshall said. “Whether the shot was there or the drive was there, [I was] just trying to be aggressive and trying to get the team into it.”
A recurring issue for the Elis this entire season has been inconsistency, and this trend reared its ugly head again on Saturday night. Yale once again started off the game with three minutes of scoreless play and despite clawing back to a seven-point halftime deficit, endured another nearly-six-minute dry spell at the start of the second half.
Five Big Red shooters capitalized on Yale’s cold offense and compiled a 12–0 run, leaving Yale in a 50–31 hole. Though the rest of the game played out with the intensity of a heated battle, the contest was never very close. Munzer’s career-high-tying 25 points were overshadowed by double-digit outputs from four Cornell players, and the Bulldogs slumped to its fifth loss in six games by a 76–63 margin.
“We had some nice matchups, we were able to contain some penetration and we were smart with some of the offenses that [Yale was] running,” Cornell head coach Dayna Smith said. “We have a lot of respect for their abilities, and we were able to contain [them].”
Cornell’s improvement to 3–3 in conference play added to the cluster of Ancient Eight competitors in the middle of the standings. Yale will travel to Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend and attempt to reinsert itself into the Ivy League playoff conversation.