Nineteen days earlier, the Yale women’s basketball team walked off the court after a demoralizing defeat against Princeton in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament. On Thursday, however, the Elis became the lone women’s team in conference history to claim a postseason title.
The Bulldogs (19–13, 8–6 Ivy) took on Central Arkansas (25–10, 14–4 Southland) Thursday night in the Women’s Basketball Invitational championship game. In a gritty contest full of airtight defensive pressure from both teams, the Elis were able to find the seams with clutch plays down the stretch. Playing with the fight that has epitomized their attitude in games all season long, the Elis won 54–50.
“I think winning the tournament was a huge way to bounce back from our loss in the Ivy Tournament and end the season on a high note,” guard Tamara Simpson ’18 said. “It also gave our program an excellent feel for postseason play.”
The Sugar Bears jumped out to an early 9–2 lead in the first quarter, riding their momentum to an eight-point lead with a little under two minutes to go in the half. Heading into the break, Central Arkansas held a 16–12 advantage on the boards and effectively stifled the Yale offense. But, the Elis took advantage where the Sugar Bears struggled: at the free-throw line. The Blue shot a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe compared to a dismal 3-for-9 from the home team in the first half.
With a comeback opportunity ripe for the plucking, the Bulldogs fought back and cut the lead down to just three heading into the second half. At the 7:05 mark of the third quarter, Yale managed to eclipse the Central Arkansas lead after forward Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21, a staff reporter for the News, intercepted an inbounds pass and flew coast-to-coast for a tough layup.
“I think being in an environment like that of UCA was a little rattling,” forward Jen Berkowitz ’18 said. “They had over 3,000 fans. In the first half we were missing easy layups and playing a little on our toes as we adjusted to the game. I think once we settled in and forgot about the crowd, we began to take control.”
After the Bulldogs snatched the lead away, guard Roxy Barahman ’20 refused to relinquish the hard-fought edge on the scoreboard, answering Sugar Bear buckets with a clutch bank shot and an and-one score. Simpson also came in clutch down the stretch, hitting a key step back jump shot.
With 29 seconds remaining in the game and the score tied at 50 apiece, Berkowitz corralled an offensive rebound off a Yale miss and scored a contested putback layup to give the Bulldogs the lead for good. After forcing ill-advised shots and turnovers from Central Arkansas, the buzzer sounded and cemented Yale as the WBI champions with a final score of 54–50.
Berkowitz, who finished with 12 points, six rebounds and a block, was honored as the MVP of the championship game. Joining her on the All-Tournament team was Simpson, who tallied 12 points, eight rebounds and a steal in the final game.
The Bulldogs finished the season with 19 wins, marking their best season in program history. The team had already beaten the previous record of 17 wins posted in the 1979–80 season after its miraculous comeback against South Alabama in the WBI semifinal. In addition to breaking new ground in Ivy League history, the Elis joined the Columbia men’s basketball team, who won the 2016 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, as the only two teams in Ancient Eight history to claim a postseason title.
“I think winning this tournament was big for the program moving forward,” captain and guard Mary Ann Santucci ’18. “I think winning it will give the younger players confidence and show them a little taste of what they are capable of in the future.”
Although the Bulldogs fell to top-seeded Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament on March 10, the WBI title sends the teams seniors — Berkowitz, Simpson and Santucci — out on a high note.
Berkowitz and Simpson both end their Bulldog careers as members of Yale’s 1,000-point club.
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