Down 11 points with two minutes to go against South Alabama in the Women’s Basketball Invitational semifinals, the Yale women’s basketball team’s storied season seemed to be nearing its end. Instead, the Bulldogs continued to rewrite history, mounting a sensational comeback and earning themselves a spot in the tournament finals.
The Bulldogs (18–13, 8–6 Ivy) overcame a deficit as large as 19 points to take down the Jaguars (21–13, 11–7 Sun Belt) Saturday evening in John J. Lee Amphitheater, setting the program record for most wins in a single season. Clinching a spot in the WBI finals, the Elis will have the opportunity to cement themselves in Ivy lore as the first Ancient Eight team to win a postseason tournament title. Guard Tamara Simpson ’18 continued to etch her name in the record books by shattering the league record for most steals in a single season.
“I think [setting the program record for wins] is a representation of [the team’s] dedication, their work ethic and their commitment,” head coach Allison Guth said. “They are proud about it, and what makes me even more excited is that they are hungry in the locker room right after to take this thing to a new level.”
Although the Bulldogs hosted Senior Night a month earlier against Columbia, the Yale home crowd gave the Elis a much-needed boost this weekend for the WBI semifinals. However, the Blue faithful did not have much to cheer about early, as the Bulldogs started out the contest frigid from the field. Astonishingly, the Elis converted just a single basket out of their first 25 shot attempts. While forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 netted one early field goal from beyond the arc, the Jaguars shot 50 percent in the first period, jumping out to a 19–8 advantage entering the second frame. Yale continued to look listless for the majority of the first half, and an 8–0 run to begin the second quarter propelled South Alabama to a 27–8 lead with four minutes to halftime.
But the Bulldogs still had some fight left in them. Guard Roxy Barahman ’20 finally broke the Blue’s scoring drought with a midrange jump shot, igniting an 11–2 run that included seven points from the Elis’ floor general. Though the Jaguars were on fire early, they cooled down considerably just before the break as the Bulldogs’ consistent defensive effort started to pay off.
“It was a little disheartening at first, but we have confidence in ourselves and we know that we can battle against anybody,” guard Tori Andrew ’21 said. “They also came out particularly hot. Basketball is a game of runs. Eventually, we would have ours.”
The Jaguars seemed confident and collected at the beginning of the fourth frame. Yale continued to play aggressive on both sides of the ball, but South Alabama had an answer for everything the Elis tried. During what seemed like a game-ending run, guard Savannah Jones nailed two threes and an easy layup for forward Chyna Ellis increased the Jaguar lead to 11 with two minutes left to play in regulation.
The game, though, was not over. Led by Simpson, the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, the Bulldogs stormed back with an array of forced turnovers, clutch shots from behind the arc and suffocating defense. With the JLA crowd behind them, the Elis found themselves down three points with 30 seconds left in the contest. That deficit was erased when Simpson knocked down a deep-range bomb. The Jaguars had a chance to regain their lead, but Simpson would not allow it; she stole the inbound pass and gave guard Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21, a staff reporter for the News, a chance to win the game with the clock running out. She missed, and the game was sent into extra time.
Overtime saw both teams battle it out in the paint. The Jaguars creeped out to an early lead, but forward Alexandra Maund ’19 took over: grabbing Eli misses and putting them back up for easy second-chance points. Yale found itself up two with 12 seconds to go in overtime. Southern Alabama had numerous chances to tie the game, battling on the offensive glass, but could not get anything to fall as the buzzer sounded, cementing a score of 76–74.
Simpson’s miraculous seven-steal effort in Saturday’s game put her at 129 on the season, breaking the Ivy League record of 125 steals in a season set by Dartmouth’s Betsy Gilmore in the 1993–94 season. At 361 career steals, she is nine away from tying Gilmore’s career record in that particular category.
“I think it’s a test for all of us mentally and physically to really persevere through every game, knowing that you just have to survive and advance,” Simpson said. “There’s a special type of pressure that’s placed on each game. Being able to win a game like that on our home court is amazing.”
With a chance to make Ivy history, the women’s basketball team will play for the WBI championship on Thursday at Central Arkansas. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. eastern time.
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Clarification, March 27: This version of the article has been updated to reflect that the women’s basketball team will have the chance to become the first women’s team in the Ivy League to win a national tournament after the regular season.