Courtesy of Steve Musco
Heading into its must-win matchup with Cornell, the Yale women’s basketball team was soaring. It had rescued a frustrating season with three consecutive wins and was on the brink of qualifying for the Ivy League Tournament.
But in the opening minutes of Friday night’s contest, these sky-high aspirations plunged back to Earth with a resounding thud.
The Bulldogs (15–12, 6–8 Ivy) recorded a single free throw in the first 10 minutes of action and did not make a field goal against the Big Red (16–11, 7–7) until the 6:06 mark of the second quarter. Though they outscored Cornell over the final three periods, the Elis ultimately could not overcome their anemic start to the game.
“Going into Cornell, we knew how important of a game it was, and we came in prepared to fight,” captain and forward Elizabeth Haley ’17 said. “We just kind of came up flat in the first quarter. … I would definitely say there were a bit of nerves, but also a large part of it is we had some good shots that just weren’t falling, and that stifled our overall momentum.”
The 59–49 loss was reminiscent of Yale’s difficulties early on in the Ivy League season to piece together a complete 40 minutes of high-caliber basketball. That they were able to conquer this weakness with masterful wins over then-undefeated Penn and third-place Harvard made this defeat, which knocked them out of the playoffs, all the more disappointing.
The tilt with Cornell pivoted on a battle over the paint, and the Big Red’s tandem of forwards Nia Marshall and Nicholle Aston held a decisive advantage over forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 on Friday night. Marshall and Aston each scored 15 points and collected nine rebounds, while Yale’s frontcourt leader, sidelined by foul trouble, managed just three points.
Berkowitz’s post moves and leadership had powered the Elis’ three-game resurgence, and the offense struggled to fill in her scoring void. Only guard Lena Munzer ’17 scored in double figures in Ithaca, and the Bulldogs shot just 25.4 percent from the floor.
Cornell swarmed and stifled the feckless Yale offense from the outset, notching three blocks and five turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of play. Berkowitz was called for her second foul with just under two minutes left in the first quarter, sending her to the bench until midway through the second. The Big Red’s crisp passing created high-quality shots in the key, while Yale was unable to create any rhythm or space against the host’s tight man-to-man defense.
The Bulldogs flexed their resiliency toward the end of the first half, however, as their defensive intensity kicked in and produced Cornell turnovers. Haley finally ended the field-goal drought with just her fourth three-pointer of the season, and guard Roxy Barahman ’20 provided a spark of energy off the bench to capitalize on Big Red miscues. With an 11–2 run to close the half, Yale trailed by just seven points and carried all the momentum at the break.
The visiting Bulldogs used this surge and gave Cornell a run for its money in the final 20 minutes of the game. A second-half push from Munzer and guard Meghan McIntyre ’17 led the Elis as the senior backcourt duo combined for 19 points. However, Yale failed to put palpable pressure on the Big Red, which sustained at least a six-point advantage for the entirety of the second half.
The veteran-laden Cornell team used its experience to come through in the clutch and keep its playoff hopes alive for one more night. Twice the Elis drew within seven of the Big Red, and twice a Cornell senior drilled a three to hamper any Yale hope of a comeback. All in all, Cornell’s fourth-year players accounted for an astonishing 53 of the team’s 59 points en route to ending the Elis’ tournament dreams.
Following the disheartening loss in Ithaca, the Bulldogs played the final game of their season at Columbia (13–14, 3–11). Both teams had been eliminated from playoff contention by Saturday night, but neither side wanted to end its season with a loss.
“We really just wanted to finish strong for the seniors and finish the season with a win,” Barahman said. “As soon as I got in there, I kind of just worked on pushing the ball and getting to the basket. I got to the line six times, so it was really easy for me to get fouls [and] get to the bucket.”
For a team that had just seen its season’s postseason prospects turn to dust, Yale certainly did not look the part in the 55–47 win in Manhattan. Although they fell behind 8–0, the Elis responded with an offensive tear and looked motivated to salvage the remnants of their season. Behind spectacular play from Barahman, the Bulldogs put up 19 points in the final six minutes of first-quarter action and built a four-point lead heading into the second frame.
The Yale offense slowed considerably in the second and third quarters as it scored just nine and eight points in the two frames, allowing Columbia to take back the lead. However, down by five entering the final quarter of the season, the Elis found a last morsel of resiliency to close out the 2016–17 campaign.
Five Bulldogs scored in Yale’s 19-point fourth quarter, and the team’s defense limited Columbia to six points, including just one in the final eight minutes of the game. The Elis concluded their rollercoaster season with this 13-point swing and their sixth conference win.
The stars of the tilt in Levien Gymnasium were Barahman, who scored a career-high 15 points, and the Bulldog defense, which held Lions offensive juggernaut Camille Zimmerman to a pedestrian 14 points and eight rebounds.
“[My career] ended in the best way possible, having the team play great basketball,” Haley said. “I guess that’s what it’s always been about, having the team succeed.”
With a 6–8 conference record, Yale finishes its season in sole possession of sixth place in the Ivy League standings.