Down 15 points in the third quarter against Columbia — on Senior Night, with an Ivy League Tournament berth on the line — the Yale women’s basketball team was watching its tournament hopes deteriorate. However, a dominant fourth quarter, in which the Elis outscored the Lions by 15, highlighted the team’s biggest comeback of the season and vaulted them into Ivy Madness.
Playing in their final home games of the season, the Elis (15–10, 8–4 Ivy) took down Cornell (6–19, 2–10 Ivy) on Friday and Columbia (8–19, 2–10 Ivy) on Saturday. After a 13-point victory against the Big Red, the Elis were deadlocked with the Crimson for third place in the conference, with the Big Green trailing one game behind. The Bulldogs’ massive comeback on Saturday — led by guard Roxy Barahman ’20 and her 16 second-half points — dashed Dartmouth’s tournament hopes and secured Yale’s position in the tournament alongside Princeton, Penn and Harvard.
“It’s been such a grind to get to this point where we could solidify a spot for the tournament,” head coach Allison Guth said. “We have a lot to focus on and fix going into the week and I think we’ll be paying attention to detail with that but [clinching a tournament spot] does take a little bit of pressure off [the team’s] plates.”
Heading into Friday’s matchup, Cornell was in the middle of a forgettable season, sitting at the bottom of the league standings. Nonetheless, the Big Red looked determined to dash the Bulldogs’ hopes, sticking around in a tightly contested game.
Although the Elis clamped down on defense and held Cornell to only six points in the opening period, guard Samantha Widmann developed a hot hand and kept the Big Red in the game, leading all scorers in the first half with 11 points. Although she did not play in the first quarter, forward Reena Olsen made important contributions off the bench for Cornell in the second stanza. Olsen used her 6-foot-3-inch frame adeptly and scored six points in the quarter, including two straight baskets in the post to cut what was once a 10-point Yale lead to just a four-point advantage.
No stranger to establishing herself in the post, forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 dominated inside and led the Bulldogs with 10 points in the first half. While she struggled from the field, forward Megan Gorman ’20 imposed her will on the glass, recording a staggering nine rebounds in the first half to help keep the Elis ahead.
The game remained close in the second half. With Berkowitz getting into foul trouble, Guth turned to forward Alex Cade ’21 for a spark off the bench. Countering Olsen’s bench play, Cade responded with several critical hustle plays down the stretch that turned the tide in favor of the Blue. Up 61–54 with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Cade entered the game after Berkowitz fouled out. A minute later, she emphatically rejected a driving layup by guard Danielle Jorgenson. On the next defensive possession, Cade knocked the ball loose on the perimeter, forcing a turnover. The momentum generated by Cade’s defensive efforts, coupled with aggressive plays on offense by Tamara Simpson ’18, helped the Bulldogs put the Big Red away for good.
“Cade is just such a hard worker,” Gorman said. “Whatever role she is given, she is giving her best. Throughout this whole season I have seen big things out of her. I knew when she came in for Jen down the stretch that she was going to do well. She’s a great player with a really bright future.”
Saturday’s contest versus Columbia held special significance for captain and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18, Simpson and Berkowitz, as it was the seniors’ final night playing in John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Lions — determined to play spoiler right from the tip — picked up where they left off the previous night in which they torched Brown for 90 points. The visitors from New York connected on seven of their first nine shot attempts and took an 18–14 lead into the second quarter.
Despite Simpson’s three steals in the first half, the Bulldogs were unable to cool off the Lions before halftime. Columbia shot 57 percent at the half, including 11 points from guard Imani Whittington and 10 points from forward Camille Zimmerman. At the same time, the Elis were frigid on offense, epitomized by their one-of-14 clip from downtown in the first two quarters. Heading into the locker room, the Bulldogs trailed 33–23.
“We were shooting such a low percentage and our shots weren’t going down, [but] I knew that would come around,” Guth said. “The message [at halftime] was to stay calm and carry on. We’re going to have to grind it one possession at a time. The only way we get back into the game is through defensive stops.”
Despite Guth’s encouragement, the team struggled to find its rhythm in the third quarter. Zimmerman and Whittington continued to burn the Bulldogs from midrange, and the Elis were unable to establish any flow in the half-court offense.
With 2:25 remaining in the third period, the Bulldogs were in a 48–33 hole. Yale then turned up the pace and began to find easier looks at the basket in transition. The Bulldogs would go on a 13–2 run, including key scores by Simpson and forward Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21. The run was capped off by a complete effort from Barahman in which she blocked a Lions shot attempt, secured the rebound and made a pull-up, transition jumper from the foul line.
The Bulldogs employed zone defense, forcing the Lions to play on the perimeter and shoot tough, outside shots that missed the mark. After fighting their way back, the Elis still needed to close the deal. With under two minutes to play and the game tied at 59, Barahman took over. The Bulldogs put the ball in the point guard’s hands during the next two possessions and Barahman delivered, hitting two clutch jumpers which gave Yale a four-point lead. The baskets highlighted 10 fourth-quarter points for Barahman, running her total up to a game-high 22 points.
“I wanted to do it for the seniors,” Barahman said. “I told myself we’re not losing this game and I had that mentality going down the stretch.”
With 29 seconds to go, and the Elis needing one stop to seal the game, Berkowitz stepped in front of Zimmerman and drew a charge, claiming victory for the Bulldogs in front of a raucous crowd.
After securing the win, Guth subbed out the three seniors, allowing the home fans to show their appreciation for them one last time with a standing ovation.
“It was kind of surreal,” Santucci said. “I still don’t know if it’s fully hit me. Getting the [win] with the team and having Roxy step up big for the seniors was pretty awesome.”
The Bulldogs will travel next weekend for the final games of the regular season against Penn and Princeton before heading to the Palestra for the Ivy Tournament.
Jimmy Chen | email@example.com