For the reeling Yale women’s basketball team, back-to-back tilts against two scorching-hot Ivy League foes this weekend may not be the most welcome of news.
In hosting Princeton (11–9, 5–2 Ivy) and Penn (14–6, 7–0), the Bulldogs will face the two stingiest defenses in the conference — neither concedes more than 58 points per game. The Elis played both opponents competitively for large parts of their losing efforts earlier in the season, and they believe that the key to these Ancient Eight battles is not a physical or strategic adjustment but rather a shift of mindset. As just three weekends remain in the regular season, the Bulldogs have both the means and the method to, if nothing else, play spoiler for the Ivy League pacesetters.
“We know that there’s no skill difference between us and Princeton,” guard Megan Gorman ’20 said of the first matchup. “That’s not the issue. We’re evenly matched … player for player, so it’s really just a matter of us having confidence. I think [we have] confidence from having those three [strong] quarters [in our first matchups]. Right now something that we’re trying to improve is going into every game … feeling like we are the better team.”
Playing with confidence has not always been easy for Yale, which shoots at the second-lowest clip in the Ivy League. Yet neither the Tigers nor Quakers fare much better — less than one field goal percentage point separates the three Ivy League competitors. The difference is that the Bulldogs’ opponents have shot the second-best of all conference teams, while Penn and Princeton’s opponents shoot just over 35 percent from the field.
In Yale’s loss at Harvard last Saturday, the elevation of guard Meghan McIntyre ’17 to the starting lineup provided a spark to the otherwise dormant offense. Head coach Allison Guth opted for a smaller lineup, and McIntyre delivered, leading the team with 17 points. The senior went a perfect 4–4 from three-point range and provides another dimension to the otherwise penetration-dependent Eli offense.
“We’ve been running a lot of quick hits, trying to get me open coming off screens,” McIntyre said. “My main threat is that I can shoot pretty far off the three-point line, so that makes the defense have to come farther out and opens it for other players. Once you hit a few shots out there your confidence definitely goes up. In that Harvard game, I hit my first shot, and that always helps.”
Despite Princeton’s relatively low field goal percentage, the Tigers have been the highest-scoring team in conference play. With only one representative in the top 20 scorers in the Ancient Eight — freshman standout guard-forward Bella Alarie, who has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week seven times this season — Princeton wields a well-balanced offensive attack.
Alarie and forward Leslie Robinson lead the conference’s best rebounding team, which averages over six more rebounds per game in Ivy play than its opponent. Given this dominance on the glass, Gorman said the coaching staff was planning on playing a bigger lineup this weekend, replacing McIntyre with the 6-foot-1 Gorman.
The Elis’ matchup with the Tigers on Jan. 14 sent both teams on their diverging trajectories in the standings. Yale entered the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead, but the Tigers used double-doubles from both Alarie and Robinson to fuel a 25–6 surge in the final 10 minutes of action to win 74–62. Princeton had lost its first two games of its Ivy campaign, but it has gone undefeated since its resounding comeback effort. Meanwhile, the Elis have gone 2–4 since the matchup in New Jersey.
“We’re coming in with a … game plan to just execute all four quarters and all 40 minutes,” guard Lena Munzer ’17 said. “You cannot take any minutes off against a team like Penn or Princeton, any team in this league, or they’re going to capitalize on that. [We’re] just coming in and knowing that we played them really close and taking back a game that we think we deserved. [I think] playing with that hunger, that chip on our shoulder, will really help us get two wins this weekend.”
After Friday night’s bout with Princeton, the Bulldogs will shift their focus to the Quakers, who remain undefeated in conference play. Penn, which finished atop the Ivy League last year, is the favorite to win the inaugural Ivy League tournament, which will be played on its home court in less than one month’s time.
Led by an experienced starting lineup of all upperclassmen, the team from Philadelphia has cruised through the first half of the conference season. Five of Penn’s seven league wins have come by double digits behind the frontcourt tandem of Michelle Nwokedi and Sydney Stipanovich. Both players average close to a double-double, though they are just as impactful on the defensive end. With Stipanovich just two swats shy of the all-time Ivy League blocks record of 305 and Nwokedi at 200 blocks, Penn’s frontcourt is the first in Ivy history to have two teammates who rank in the top 10 in the conference in rejections.
The Bulldogs will need a healthy dose of confidence when they face Penn on Friday, as the Quakers give up the fewest points per contest by a 5.8-point margin. Still, if the first meeting between these teams is any indication of the game to come, Yale may have a fighting chance. In three of the four quarters from the last matchup, the Elis outscored Penn by a total of 46-45. It was an abysmal third quarter, in which Yale was outscored by 12, that did the Bulldogs in last time around.
Penn and Princeton have accounted for the last seven Ivy League titles.
Contact Won Jung at firstname.lastname@example.org and Steven Rome at email@example.com .