The Yale women’s basketball team capped off preseason play with a busy and successful month, going 8–2 in the final 10 games of the calendar year and collecting a championship in the Florida Atlantic University 11th Holiday Classic.

The Elis (10–5, 0–0 Ivy League) are riding a five-game winning streak into the start of their regular season, with their pack-line defense clicking at just the right times. Despite losing Defensive Player of the Year Tamara Simpson ’18, the Bulldogs have put on a tremendous defensive effort thus far. In 15 preseason games, the Bulldogs have kept their opponents to an average of 58 points and 34.5 shooting percentage per game, second only to Penn in the Ivy League. Yale has held its opponents to under 55 points in their last five contests.

The Bulldogs’ peaking team chemistry was on full display in their wins against Saint Louis (6–10, 1–2 Atlantic 10) and North Carolina A&T (5–10, 2–0 Mid-Eastern Athletic) in the FAU Holiday Classic. After Yale’s early exit from the Preseason Women’s National Invitation Tournament at the start of the season, head coach Allison Guth was intent on making sure her team took care of business in the holiday tournament.

“Our team played great in Florida, and it was wonderful to win the tournament,” said Guth. “We had players step up big time like Tori Andrew [’21] in the second half vs. NC A&T. Camilla [Emsbo ’22] took a big step forward in her physicality in the interior and Ale [Aguirre ’21] gave us big minutes when Roxy [Barahman ’20] got in foul trouble against Saint Louis. [Megan] Gorman [’20] played phenomenally in front of her family and friends at home and her 17 boards [against Saint Louis] were instrumental in our win.”

Against Saint Louis in the first round, the Bulldogs showed their resilience in the face of adversity, overcoming a poor offensive performance in which they were held to under 28 percent shooting. With four players sitting out, and their top two scorers — point guard Barahman and forward Emsbo — in foul trouble, the Elis turned to their bench, which has been an inconsistent presence so far in the season.

Playing six different players, led by guard Aguirre, the second unit was committed to changing the narrative. Aguirre’s back-to-back three-pointers at the end of the first quarter gave Yale an early 16–10 lead, and the bench finished with 10 points on the night.

Despite a strong opening period, the Bulldogs could only muster six additional points before the halftime buzzer, and the Billikens stormed back. After an evenly matched third quarter, Saint Louis held a 41–35 advantage going into the fourth. The Billikens led by as many as eight in the contest.

The Bulldogs and the Billikens traded runs to open the final quarter. In a beautiful display of team basketball, Aguirre found guard Andrew for an easy layup, kick-starting a 10–0 run by the Bulldogs that included five straight points from forward Alex Cade ’21. Cade finished with eight points and eight rebounds, and Andrew contributed nine points and three assists. Forward Gorman collected a career-high 17 rebounds. Both Gorman and Barahman scored 11 apiece in the first game of the holiday classic.

Saint Louis answered with a 9–3 run that tied the game 50–50 with a minute left. In a frantic final minute, Barahman sunk two free throws, only for Saint Louis guard Ciaja Harbison to lay the ball in on the other end. Barahman responded with a baseline drive for the go-ahead layup with 37 seconds left. In Saint Louis’ next possession, Harbison tried another layup. This time, she was denied by Emsbo. The Billikens did not score again.

Barahman leads the Ivy League, averaging 21 points per game, and is second and fifth in steals and assists per game, respectively. She put on a dazzling performance for the 1,890-strong home crowd at John J. Lee Amphitheater on Dec. 20 for New Haven Public Schools Field Trip Day. In the team’s 58–46 win against Central Connecticut State, the standout floor general finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals. Emsbo also had a big night, scoring 13 points to go along with six rebounds and three blocks. Emsbo is now a three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week honoree and is second in the conference in rebounds per game (8.8) and blocks per game (1.9).

Barahman finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds against North Carolina A&T, 11 of which came in the first half alone. It was her fourth double-double in six games.

Facing the defending MEAC regular-season and tournament champions, the Bulldogs put together a balanced and consistent effort on both ends of the floor in the championship game of the FAU Holiday Classic. Yale shot over 42 percent from the field and held the Aggies to 27.5 percent shooting. Dominating the paint, the Elis led by as many as 14 points in its final game of the preseason and outrebounded their opponents 50–49.

Despite facing intense defensive pressure from North Carolina A&T in the third quarter and committing 19 turnovers, Yale regained composure in the fourth quarter, using Andrew’s back-to-back three-pointers to pull away. Barahman and Gorman were named to the all-tournament team, with Gorman taking MVP honors after contributing 12 points and seven rebounds in the title game.

Playing back-to-back games in the FAU Holiday Classic was good preparation for the upcoming regular season. Having dedicated the last 11 consecutive days to breaking down each of their conference opponents, the Bulldogs will play their much-anticipated Ivy League opener at Brown on Jan. 18.

“We want to keep improving how we share and score the ball,” Guth said. “A lot of great things came out of our tournament play. We’re eager to play another game.”

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu