In literary terms, the Yale women’s basketball team’s previous matchups with Harvard and Dartmouth this year could be described as Jekyll and Hyde performances.
The Bulldogs (12–9, 5–3 Ivy) will host both Dartmouth (12–9, 4–4) and rival Harvard (13–8, 5–3) in John J. Lee Amphitheater this weekend to begin a four-game home stretch. The Elis last faced the two Ivy foes during a roller-coaster road trip in late January, in which Yale put on both the best and worst defensive performances by any Ivy team this season. The Bulldogs allowed rival Harvard — a team that currently averages 68.4 points per contest — to score a staggering 97 points. In their next game, the Bulldogs held Dartmouth to a feeble 39 points. This weekend, the team will look for sustained effort on the defensive end.
“We need to make sure that we become more consistent in our level of execution defensively,” head coach Allison Guth said. “We have proven that when we lock in and execute the details in our defensive game plan, we can be pretty special. We want to find ways to play through runs together. I do think we are maturing and have a wonderful opportunity to play two very talented teams this weekend.”
Despite tallying their second-lowest point total of the Ivy season against the Big Green, the Elis nevertheless played their best defensive game of the season. In addition to locking down defensively, Yale also outrebounded its opponent by 14 and racked up 13 second-chance points to the Big Green’s four.
The momentum generated by the Bulldogs airtight defensive display catapulted them to a big win against Princeton the following weekend. Yale must bring the same intensity on defense for the second meeting against the Big Green, which leads the conference in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
“This time around it will be especially tough, but we need to play great team defense to pull out another win,” guard Roxy Barahman ’20 said. “They are a very good team, as they have beaten Harvard, so we know that they are going to be very fired up to try and beat us. Great communication and stopping their transition push as well will be major keys.”
Guard Cy Lippold runs the Dartmouth offense. The Pennsylvania native, who averages 12.8 points per game, leads the Ivy League in assists per game, with 5.4 per contest after, overtaking Penn’s Anna Ross for the top spot. In the first matchup, the Bulldog defense silenced Lippold to the tune of seven points on a success rate of 3–13 shots, including a game-high six turnovers.
For the Crimson matchup, the Bulldogs emphasized transition defense as a focus for improvement. In the first game of the season series, Harvard thoroughly beat the Elis on the break and found outside shooters, burying open 3-pointers along with the Bulldogs’ hopes.
“It’s all about the way we defend in transition,” Guth said. “Harvard was tremendous with pushing the ball off both makes and misses. They found a way to carve our pressure and they made us pay when we did not have our correct assignments in transition defensively. It will be very important for us to pay better attention to the pace of the game and controlling the tempo better by contesting capable shooters.”
During the Jan. 26 game, the Crimson lit up the scoreboard with a 3-point barrage, netting 14 triples on 63.6 percent shooting. The basket seemed to be twice as large for Harvard, as they shot a scalding 61.3 percent from the field overall.
One of the shooters the Elis will seek to slow down is guard Katie Benzan, who leads the Ancient Eight with the highest 3-point percentage. She has continued to play fantastic basketball for Harvard this season, converting 47.1 percent of her attempts from long range, well ahead of second-place Lauren Whitlatch of Penn. The five-foot-six sophomore is currently leading her team in points and assists per game, with 13.7 and 3.9, respectively.
For the Bulldogs, the upcoming matchups have important implications for a potential playoff push. The Bulldogs are currently tied with Harvard for third place in the Ivy League. A sweep against the Crimson and the fifth-place Big Green this weekend would put the Elis in prime position to punch their ticket to the Palestra when they host Cornell and Columbia the following week. At the end of the season, only the top four teams have the chance to battle it out in the Ivy League Tournament for a spot in March Madness.
“We like to take things one day at a time, one game at a time,” captain and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18 said. “We are looking forward to the weekend and are excited to play some good Bulldog basketball.”
The game against the Big Green will tip off at 6 p.m. on Friday, and the game against the Crimson will begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
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