When the Yale women’s basketball team is scoring, it can contend with any team in the Ivy League. But the defining characteristic of the Bulldogs’ season has been their propensity for extended scoreless periods — and these droughts have cost the last-place Elis numerous winnable contests.
Over the weekend, Yale (10–9, 1–5 Ivy) started its games against both Columbia and Cornell by not scoring for almost three minutes. But the Bulldogs’ problem is not limited to merely starting slow; their dry spells have come at varying times over the course of the season. In each conference loss, the team has suffered from cold spurts of at least three minutes — and at times over five minutes — that proved pivotal. These struggles reflect an offense that has grown reliant on the inside scoring of forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 and penetration from guards Lena Munzer ’17 and Tamara Simpson ’18. Without having to defend a consistent outside shooting threat, defenses have been able to lock down the Elis and bring their offense to a halt.
“As far as offense goes, it just a matter of trusting our system and trusting ourselves, playing to our potential,” guard Megan Gorman ’20 said. “We can score and we have a lot of great players that can put the ball in the hoop so I don’t think there’s any big, magical secret besides just playing the way that we can play, the way we know how to play.”
On Friday night, after going scoreless for nearly the first three minutes of its game with Columbia, Yale also scored just two points in the first three and a half minutes of the second quarter. The Bulldogs finished the quarter with a dismal eight points, largely due in part to the absence of their leading scorer, Munzer, who sat for the entirety of the quarter with foul trouble.
The droughts only got worse on Saturday, however, as Cornell transformed a 38–31 halftime lead into a 50–31 romp. The home team did not score a basket until nearly six minutes into the third period, and the Elis managed just six assists against the Big Red defense — indicative of their dependence on one-on-one scoring opportunities.
Columbia and Cornell put this lack of ball movement in sharp contrast, as both teams utilized crisp passing to create open looks in Yale’s otherwise effective zone defense. Last weekend, the Lions had 20 assists and the Big Red had 18, while the Blue have not tallied more than 16 assists in any game this season, with five games in single digits.
“We try to get 15-plus assists a game, so you can tell we were doing a lot of one on one, too much dribble-drive action on the first option and not sharing the basketball east and west,” head coach Allison Guth said after the Cornell game. “I think everyone is playing kind of like a sagging man and really going under ball screens, and we’re not being the aggressor right now, so that’s something we’re definitely going to have to go to work on this week.”
The Bulldogs sport one of the more balanced Ivy League attacks with three of their starters averaging more than 10.7 points per contest. However, the drop-off to the next best scorers is considerable, with guard Meghan McIntyre ’17 scoring at a clip of 7.0 points per game and Gorman tallying 5.7 points per game.
McIntyre, who began the season as a starter, was moved to the bench in favor of Simpson. Since this change, McIntyre’s shooting has been erratic at best, leaving the Elis without a reliable scorer off the bench. In the first eight games of the season, the senior launched an average of 8.5 three-point attempts per game, hitting 33.8 percent of those treys. Since then, McIntyre has attempted only four threes per game and connected on just 25 percent of those shots.
McIntyre’s reduced role and decline in productivity have given defenses less reason to worry about covering the outside, which, in turn, has drawn more defenders to the paint.
Likewise, Gorman has shown glimpses of being a capable scorer but has not reached a dependable consistency on the offensive end, especially with her jump shot.
Even with their offensive struggles, the Bulldogs hold out hope that they can right the ship and return to the form that allowed them to go 9–4 in the nonconference season. Guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18, who runs the offense for Yale as the starting point guard, scores a mere 5.2 points per game, but can help the Eli attack in overall execution.
“The biggest thing we try to do if our offense is getting a little stagnant or we’re not hitting shots is just try to keep the transition push going,” Santucci said. “Not even set up an offense, just rebound, outlet, go, try to feed it into our post [with] Berkowitz and [Alexandra] Maund ’19 and take high-percentage shots. … Coach Guth likes to [emphasize] six-second scores, which are things we work on in practice, just getting the ball up the floor, not even letting the defense have time to get set.”
With the halfway point of the conference season approaching — and four spots still up for grabs in the first-ever Ivy League tournament — time remains for Yale to overcome its offensive woes and score at a more regular clip. The Bulldogs currently shares seventh place in the Ancient Eight with Dartmouth with a 1–5 conference record, four wins behind a flawless Penn. With two victories this weekend, the Elis could reposition themselves closer to the middle of the standings.
The team will next face Dartmouth and Harvard on the road on Feb. 10 and 11, respectively.