Courtesy of Steve Musco
With a rousing upset victory last Saturday, the Yale women’s basketball team put the entire Ivy League on notice by defeating the last remaining unbeaten team in the conference. Now, the Bulldogs will try to sustain that performance by facing a middling Dartmouth squad and challenging a talented Harvard team that easily dispatched the Elis two weeks ago.
Yale (12–11, 3–7 Ivy) will need the same start-to-finish intensity it used to overpower previously undefeated Penn to defeat the Crimson (19–4, 7–3) on Friday night. Similarly, the Elis cannot afford to let up on Saturday against the Big Green (6–17, 1–9) if they plan to make a run at the No. 4 seed in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. Dogged by inconsistency over the season, Yale still sits just two games out of a spot in the tournament with four games left in the season.
The factors that contributed to the win over Penn — a hot shooting start, dominant post play from forward Jen Berkowitz ’18, stingy defense and superior energy — will once again be the keys to handling Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend.
“We talk about [how] … we can beat any team in this league, but it changes things when you actually do it,” guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “It’s a statement to the rest of the league, but also to ourselves: It’s not … hypothetical anymore — we just beat the best team in the league who wins most of [its] games by 20-plus points. It gives us a lot of confidence [and] fires us up for the next four games of the season, showing us that we can really go 4–0.”
Even with this newfound confidence, the Elis have their work cut out for them. Yale has not beaten its biggest rival since 2012 — meaning no player on the roster has earned a victory over the Crimson in her college career — and Harvard is no less intimidating this season.
On Feb. 12, the Elis fell behind the Crimson 20–10 in the first quarter and could never overcome that hole in an eventual 20-point blowout. Shooting under 30 percent from the field, including an uncharacteristic 4–16 from Berkowitz, Yale’s offense was out of sync from the start.
The Bulldogs opted to play small, starting 5-foot-10-inch guard Meghan McIntyre ’17, who hit all four of her three-point attempts to lead the team with 17 points. But this was no match for Harvard’s tandem of underclassmen guards, Madeline Raster and Katie Benzan. Raster missed only three shots on the night for a game-high 24 points, while Benzan — the league’s co-leader in assists — posted 19 points and 10 dimes on her way to Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week honors.
A week after holding Penn to under 50 points, the Eli defense’s first priority will be to slow down these guards and force someone else on the Crimson’s roster to take over. In its first matchup, Yale forced seven more turnovers than Harvard but could not convert that advantage into offense.
“Yale didn’t shoot well in that [first] game,” Harvard head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “I think they play really hard, and they’re certainly a team to reckon with. We feel the same about Yale as we do about almost every conference game we play in. They’re very dangerous — they’ve got a dual attack from the inside and the outside, they’re on their home court [and] they’re sky-high from just beating Penn. So, I don’t think the game’s going to be the same as it was in Boston.”
The night prior to Yale’s abysmal shooting performance in Cambridge, the Bulldogs were able to hold off a late rally from Dartmouth to secure an important conference victory in Hanover. Berkowitz played more like her usual self against the Big Green as she dropped 21 points on 9–16 shooting while collecting 10 rebounds.
Throughout the low-scoring 57–50 affair, Dartmouth struggled against Berkowitz’s offensive versatility. Consequently, the team from New Hampshire will try to limit her efficacy this time around.
“Berkowitz played very, very well,” Dartmouth head coach Belle Koclanes said. “She was able to score on the perimeter, where going into our game they were really using her more inside. So, when we had particular matchups on her, depending on who was defending her, [she went] into the post [or went] out to the perimeter.”
If the past weekend is any indication of how Dartmouth and Harvard defend star forwards, Berkowitz may be primed for a great two-game stretch. The Big Green and Crimson not only both surrendered a double-double to Columbia forward Camille Zimmerman but also allowed Cornell forwards Nicholle Aston and Nia Marshall to respectively average 13.5 and 18.0 points per game over the weekend.
Nevertheless, the Elis will need a full team effort during their last two home games of the season to pull out a weekend sweep. Moreover, captain and forward Elizabeth Haley ’17, McIntyre and guard Lena Munzer ’17 will don the blue and white for the final time in front of a John J. Lee Amphitheater crowd this weekend, and the trio looks to say farewell on a high note.
“[Following our loss to Princeton we were] physically, mentally and emotionally drained,” Munzer said. “[But], if you can find it in you to give everything you have and even something you really don’t feel like you have, that would mean a lot to your teammates and say a lot about your character.”
The win over Penn slightly revitalizes Yale’s postseason prospects, which had dwindled after its 2–7 start to the conference season. Now just two games behind Brown and Cornell for the fourth spot in the Ivy League Tournament, the Bulldogs effectively need to win the remainder of their games while hoping that the Bears lose to the same teams.
The Ivy League Tournament will be held on March 11 and 12 at the Palestra in Philadelphia.