Led by first-team All-Ivy Selection Jen Berkowitz ’18 and Defensive Player of the Year Tamara Simpson ’18, the Yale women’s basketball team will make its postseason debut at the Palestra this weekend, hungry for its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Bulldogs (15–12, 8–6 Ivy) enter the Ivy League Tournament as the No. 4 seed, which means they will face No. 1 seed Princeton (22–5, 12–2) in the first round. Coming off a loss against the same Tigers in the regular-season finale, the Elis will have a perfect chance for redemption as they battle for their first-ever appearance in March Madness. Not knowing how Ivy Madness will unfold beyond the matchup versus Princeton, the Blue’s mentality is to take the tournament step by step and be ready for any and all competition.
“Going into this weekend my teammates and I are focusing on one game at a time, first being Princeton,” said Simpson, who was named second-team All-Ivy. “Although we are the fourth seed, we are not intimidated by playing the first seed, because we know it is a very winnable game. We’ve split with both Princeton and Harvard, so we don’t really feel like the underdog in either of those matchups.”
The first time the Bulldogs clashed with the Tigers this season, Yale defended John J. Lee Amphitheater and defeated Princeton for the first time since 2009 with a final score of 73–59. The blowout victory featured its fair share of memorable moments, including a halftime buzzer-beater from captain and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18, as well as four 3-pointers from guard Tori Andrew ’21. Beyond a brilliant shooting exhibition, the Elis handed the Tigers their first defeat of the Ivy season.
In the two teams’ second meeting — the final contest of the regular season for the Elis — Yale fell short against the Tigers despite leading for most of the first half. The Bulldogs went cold from the field while their opponents punished Yale’s lackluster execution on both ends of the floor. With the win, Princeton clinched the conference title and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Despite returning to New Haven with a loss, Berkowitz scored her 1,000th career point in a Yale uniform, a feat that her fellow senior Simpson also achieved earlier in the season.
“The biggest areas of improvement for our third time matching up with Princeton is cleaning up unforced turnovers and executing offensively against their 3–2,” Berkowitz said. “I believe the offensive execution will come naturally if we share the ball and play free. We do best when we stop thinking and do what we know how to do, which is play team basketball and have some fun while doing it.”
The Tigers are led by 6-foot-4 guard Bella Alarie. The Ivy League Player of the Year averaged 13.4 points, 9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.3 assists per contest in the regular season. Her height and versatility make her dangerous on both sides of the ball, as she can switch from playing the perimeter to playing the paint on a whim.
In the Yale victory against Princeton on Feb. 2, the Bulldogs held Alarie to a modest eight points, though she still managed a season-high eight blocks. Alarie, who averages 2.4 blocks per game, has anchored Princeton’s elite defense all season. Whether or not the Bulldogs can heat up from the perimeter to combat Alarie’s length, as they did in the victory earlier in the season, may be the deciding factor against the Tigers. In the win, the Elis found the range and hit 11 of 23 shots from downtown culminating in their best outside-shooting display of the season.
If the Bulldogs pull off the upset against Princeton, they will play the winner of the matchup between No. 2 Penn and No. 3 Harvard in the tournament final. Against every other team competing at the Palestra, Yale holds a combined 2–4 record throughout the season. The team split the season series against the Crimson and Tigers but dropped both meetings with the Quakers. Penn represents the only team in the Ancient Eight the Elis have not been able to overcome this season. On the Quakers’ homecourt, the Bulldogs may get their final opportunity to do so if it advances to Sunday’s championship game.
In a potential rematch against Penn, the Bulldogs’ biggest issue is rebounding. In both double-digit losses against the Quakers, the Elis lost the battle of the boards by an average of 17 rebounds, leading to significant deficits in second-chance points. A total team effort on the glass will be needed to combat the league-leading rebounding prowess of Penn.
In the lastest matchup against Harvard, the Elis played their cleanest basketball of the year, committing only seven turnovers en route to winning a tightly-contested game. Guard Roxy Barahman ’20, who recently received All-Ivy Honorable Mention, led all scorers with 20 points. The game was a significant foil to the earlier loss against the Crimson, in which the Bulldogs turned the ball over 17 times and allowed a staggering 97 points. Taking care of the ball may be Yale’s key to victory, should the two archrivals meet in the final.
Despite entering as the No. 4 seed, Yale and head coach Allison Guth do not feel like underdogs.
“We feel like Yale,” head coach Allison Guth said. “We have an exciting brand of basketball that takes pride in making defensive stops so we can capitalize on offense. We trust each other and love each other. When you do those two things you can beat anyone on any given night. We have proven that this season and plan on proving it this weekend.”
Yale will tip off against Princeton in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Palestra.
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