One week after clinching its first-ever berth in the Ivy League Tournament, the Yale women’s basketball team got a taste of the challenges ahead after two tough losses to Penn and Princeton.
Playing in their final games of the regular season, the Bulldogs (15–12, 8–6 Ivy) hit the road to face the two teams sitting atop the conference standings. On Friday, the Elis battled back from a disastrous first quarter but were unable to overcome rebounding woes in a 64–52 loss against the Quakers (20–7, 11–3 Ivy). Looking to bounce back the following night, the Elis struggled with turnovers and shooting from the foul line as the Tigers (22–5, 12–2 Ivy) held off the Bulldogs for a 64–53 victory.
Princeton claimed its sixth Ivy League title in the past nine years as it also celebrated the careers of its veteran players during Senior Night. The Bulldogs, despite the rough results, came away with another milestone as forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 became the 21st player in program history to score 1,000 career points.
“We absolutely need to dial in on how disciplined we are on the offensive and defensive end,” head coach Allison Guth said. “We need to continue to grow so that we are playing our best basketball next weekend. I believe we still have it in us. We have to get in the gym and work on the deficiencies from this weekend.”
On Friday, the first half was a tale of two quarters. The Quakers’ stifling defense gave the Elis heaps of trouble during the outset, and Yale fell behind 22–8 at the end of a miserable first quarter. In a fashion eerily similar to their previous matchup on Feb. 3, Penn outhustled the Bulldogs on the glass early and often. Fast forward to Friday’s contest and Yale again lost the battle of the boards, 34–52.
The Blue fell behind by their largest margin of 17 points with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter. Yet Yale managed to turn on their offensive firepower in the second quarter. Sparked by the play of their bench, the Bulldogs went on a 14–2 run in under seven minutes. Forward Alexandra Maund ’19 and forward Alex Cade ’21 scored eight of the team’s 13 bench points in the half while providing solid presences in the paint to counter Penn’s physicality. At the end of the first half, the Bulldogs cut the lead to 31–29.
But, the team started off the third quarter similar to the way they did in the first quarter: by shooting poorly. Though the Bulldogs garnered some momentum to begin the final period, thanks to scores by guard Roxy Barahman ’20 and Cade, the Quakers sunk the Elis with a 15–6 run to end the game.
“I think a main reason we didn’t win against Penn is the way we started,” Cade said. “We came out a little slow, and we were not able to knock down some shots. Penn has two big posts who can work together. Our goal was to limit their rebounds to get second chances, and we as a team just need to be a bit more effective boxing out and going to get the rebound.”
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Tigers were riding the momentum of a historic achievement the previous night when forward Leslie Robinson recorded the program’s first-ever triple double in a lopsided victory versus Brown. But, the weekend would have even more implications for Ivy League history, as Berkowitz came into the contest two points shy of 1,000 career points. Berkowitz would reach the milestone with a left-handed layup at the 5:15 mark of the opening period, joining 20 other Yalies to achieve the feat.
“It’s really an honor to receive,” Berkowitz said. “I try not to keep track of that stuff and worry about the here and now, so I was a little surprised when I found out. I’m thankful that I can join the group of women that have achieved it in the past, alongside my fellow senior Tamara who received hers earlier this year.”
Yet, the rest of the game was no cause for celebration for the Bulldogs. Though the Elis led for much of the first half by dominating the paint and controlling pace, the Tigers found a huge boost from the shooting of guard Kenya Holland. The senior was a perfect two-of-two from downtown in the first quarter and five-of-seven overall, keeping Princeton afloat before the Tigers made their run. Though the Elis led by as many as seven points, the Tigers tied the game at 30 by halftime.
Princeton came out firing in the second half, pushing the pace off Bulldog turnovers. The zone defense started to give Yale problems in the half-court set, and the Bulldogs could not find the stroke in third quarter. The Elis also compounded their troubles by not hustling for second-chance points; the team secured zero offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 11–3 overall in the period. The Bulldogs trailed 47–40 heading into the final period.
Though the Elis remained aggressive and attacked the basket frequently to find their rhythm, they could not convert their opportunities at the free throw line. In the fourth quarter, the team shot an abysmal three-of-seven from the charity stripe. With 46 seconds remaining and the Bulldogs down by six, Simpson missed a 3-point attempt that would have cut the lead down to one possession. The Tigers then closed the game out at the free throw line, taking advantage where Yale struggled by converting nine-of-eleven attempts in the quarter.
With 15 overall wins thus far, the Elis have won the most games in a season since 2012 and hold the third-most wins overall in their history. The all-time record for most victories during a single campaign is 17, set in 1980, a number the Bulldogs can tie with two triumphs at the Palestra this upcoming weekend.
With the defeats this past weekend, the Bulldogs are locked in as the fourth seed in the upcoming Ivy League Tournament and will have a rematch against the first-seeded Tigers on Saturday in Game 1 of the women’s semifinal.
Jimmy Chen | firstname.lastname@example.org