Facing off against its two rivals for the final two spots in the Ivy League tournament, the Yale women’s basketball team saw its ability to execute in crunchtime tested as it split two home nail-biters that could have gone in any team’s favor.
Beginning a four-game home stand, the Bulldogs (13–10, 6–4 Ivy) suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss after a fourth-quarter collapse against the Big Green (14–9, 6–4 Ivy). In one of the season’s biggest gut-check moments, the Elis responded resolutely the following night and emerged victorious after a suspenseful back-and-forth battle with the Crimson (14–9, 6–4 Ivy).
“I’m so proud of our kids’ gumption. It’s not the result, it’s that we took care of the little things to get the result we wanted,” head coach Allison Guth said. “I think after the gut-wrenching loss [versus Dartmouth] last night, you really find out about the character of a team with the way that they respond.”
The game against Dartmouth started off slowly for both teams offensively. The Bulldogs, who were looking to extend their winning streak to three games, only netted 12 points in the opening quarter but held the Big Green to just 10, with eight of those coming from guard Kate Letkewicz.
Supplementing their defensive dominance with 3-pointers from guard Tamara Simpson ’18 and guard Tori Andrew ’21, Yale began the second period with an explosive 13–0 run that lasted nearly five minutes. The Elis did not relent with their defensive pressure, rattling the Big Green and forcing two shot clock violations within the quarter. Giving up just eight points in the frame, the Bulldogs took a 34–18 advantage into halftime.
The game seemed victorious for Yale after three quarters of play, as the team held a 48–35 lead. Despite containing the remainder of the Dartmouth offense, the Bulldogs failed to find an answer for Letkewicz, who led all scorers with a season-high 29 points. As the Elis’ execution faltered both offensively and defensively — forcing contested shots in the paint and being late on man-to-man coverages — Letkewicz led Dartmouth on a 14–1 run that tied the game at 49. The Big Green then took the lead, but with seconds remaining, guard Megan Gorman ’20 hit the Elis’ second field goal of the quarter to tie the game at 55 and force overtime.
Both teams traded baskets in the extra period until the final seconds. With 30 seconds remaining, forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 received a pass in the post from Simpson for a bucket, giving Yale a 62–61 advantage. In the ensuing possession, guard Cy Lippold found forward Andi Norman open in the left corner for a dagger three that retook the lead for Dartmouth.
After the demoralizing loss against Dartmouth, Yale was in danger of slipping to the fifth spot in the conference if it did not come out on top versus Harvard.
“We knew that [the Harvard] game was high stakes for us as far as postseason play goes, and we just had to stick together as a team,” Andrew said. “We knew we could beat them if we played together. We had to prove it to ourselves, to our coaches and to our opponents that we are here to play in the postseason and make a run in the tournament.”
Against the Crimson, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead once again, as a driving shot by Simpson put Yale on top, 9–2. But, it was clear that the game would take a much different course from the contest against Dartmouth. Although the Elis looked energetic on defense, Harvard closed the gap to two points by the end of the quarter.
The game evolved into a tight back-and-forth contest in the second quarter. The exciting exchanges featured a trio of 3-pointers from each side; on the Bulldogs’ end, captain Mary Ann Santucci ’18, Andrew and guard Roxy Barahman ’20 each hit one shot from downtown during the quarter. The Bulldogs played a relatively clean half, committing only three turnovers to Harvard’s seven, allowing them to take a one-point lead into the locker room, despite shooting just 41.7 percent from the field compared to Harvard’s 50.
The third quarter featured a strong attempt by Harvard to snatch momentum away from the Bulldogs. The Crimson finished an 8–0 run that put them on top, 51–47, after guard Katie Benzan hit her team’s seventh 3-pointer of the game. Seeking an answer, the Elis turned to Andrew to spark the offense with her long-range shooting prowess. After struggling to establish herself early in the season and missing 10 games due to an ankle injury, Andrew has established herself as one of the team’s most lethal 3-point threats.
“My coaches were really adamant on telling me to keep shooting and to look for my shot,” Andrew said. “Knowing that they had confidence in me really helped.”
Andrew cashed in three of four shots from beyond the arc in the quarter before Barahman beat the buzzer with a step back three of her own, capping off eight unanswered points for the Bulldogs. The Elis were able to weather the storm early in the third quarter and took a 55–51 lead into the final period.
With the game tied at 63 with 1:27 to go, Simpson took over. She recorded one of her four steals before drawing a foul and making one free throw to give the Elis the lead. On the subsequent Harvard possession, Simpson intercepted the ball, jumping the passing lane before getting fouled again. Although she missed both free throws, Simpson hustled and recovered the ball with a critical offensive rebound. With Yale up three points with 24 seconds left, Benzan’s potential game-tying triple came up well short, and the Bulldogs sealed the win at the foul line in front of a delirious crowd.
“Down the stretch we came up with some big defensive stops to put us in a good place to finish out the game,” Barahman said. “Going forward we definitely have to close games, and we know we can because we proved that tonight.”
The Bulldogs are now tied for third place in the Ivy League with Dartmouth and Harvard. With four games remaining in the regular season, the Blue will play their final home games next weekend against Cornell and Columbia.
Cristofer Zillo contributed reporting.
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