Facing one of its toughest tests of the season this weekend, the Yale women’s basketball team will look to break 0.500 in conference play when it matches up against the two teams that have won the past eight Ivy League titles.
After three games away from John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs (9–8, 2–2 Ivy) are set to continue conference play with a weekend home stand against Princeton (13–3, 3–0) and Penn (11–5, 2–1). Both teams come into the matchups red-hot. Princeton has won seven straight games en route to the league’s best overall record, including a dominating victory that handed Penn its only loss in Ivy League play. The defending conference champion Quakers, who also won the inaugural conference tournament in 2017, head into the weekend on a five-game winning streak.
“Princeton and Penn are tremendously talented,” head coach Allison Guth said. “The takeaway from this past weekend is working on consistency in our defensive effort every possession from the minute we step into the gym.”
Last weekend, the Elis failed to bring that consistency on the defensive end, allowing a season-high 97 points in a loss to the Crimson before locking down the league’s top shooting Big Green to 39 points, a season-low for opponents’ offensive output. Finding consistency on the defensive side of the ball against top competition will be paramount as the Bulldogs look to gather momentum for an eventual playoff push.
This weekend, however, Yale’s focus must be twofold, as their opponents are arguably the two best defensive teams in the Ancient Eight. The Elis must also lock in on the offensive end on Friday, as Princeton boasts the league’s best defense. The Tigers have managed to hold opponents to a mere 53.8 points per game on average. Princeton also holds opponents to an average of just 32.3 boards per game, so rebounding by committee will be one of the Bulldogs’ keys to success against Princeton. The Tigers also rank first in the Ivy League in opponents’ field goal percentage, holding teams to a 27.6 percent shooting.
Princeton’s offense is led by guard Bella Alarie. Last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year is nearly averaging a double double going into Friday’s game against the Elis, scoring roughly 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds per game. Along with Alarie, the Bulldogs will also have to contend with second-team All-Ivy forward Leslie Robinson, who puts up nearly 11 points and seven rebounds a game.
“We really have to focus on our defense if we want to beat those two teams,” guard Roxy Barahman ’20 said. “They have very capable players in every position, and I think the key will be defending as a team.”
Penn, like Princeton, has shut down opponents this season. The Quakers rank just beneath the Tigers, giving up just 57.3 points per game. Yale will have to be cautious when driving the ball, as Penn averages the most blocked shots in the conference with roughly six per contest.
Penn’s offense relies on center Eleah Parker and guard Anna Ross. Parker, a Charlotte, North Carolina native, currently averages 13.3 points and is sixth in the Ivy League with eight rebounds per game. Ross, a floor general, leads the conference with 5.6 assists per game and a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Under Ross’ leadership, the Quakers have moved the ball well, ranking second in the league with 16 assists per game. But the Bulldog defense, led by guard Tamara Simpson ’18, has proven to be very effective in disrupting opponents’ offensive flow by forcing turnovers. Yale leads the Ivy League with 11.2 steals per game with an average of 4.6 coming from Simpson. If the Bulldogs can force turnovers and quicken the pace of the game with transition offense, they will find more easy opportunities to score against the league’s leading defenses. Especially against Penn’s shot blockers, finding layups on the fast break will be key.
“There is a lot of parity in the Ivy League this year, so on any given night any team can get a win,” forward Megan Gorman ’20 said. “With that being said I think what is important for us is to come into every game focused and to play our game every night.”
The matchup against the Tigers will tip off at 6 p.m. on Friday, while the contest against the Quakers will begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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