Nearly midway through the regular season, the second-place Yale women’s basketball team will look to find some breathing room in a tight race toward Ivy Madness in March when it takes on Columbia on Friday and Cornell on Saturday.

With identical conference records, the Elis (14–7, 4–2 Ivy) just edge third-placed Harvard (11–8, 4–2) in their overall record heading into the third of six straight weekends of back-to-back action.

Coming up empty at the buzzer to lose to Dartmouth 70–69 last Saturday, the Lions (6–13, 2–4) are looking to redeem themselves. Guard Janiya Clemmons led the way for Columbia, finishing with a game-high 23 points on 8–11 shooting. Versatile guard Sienna Durr added 15 points, and guards Riley Casey and Madison Hardy pitched in with 13 and 14 points respectively. Columbia’s offense has featured balanced attacks from its guards all season, with several capable playmakers including guard Mikayla Markham, the league’s leader in assists.

A 22–0 run right out of the gate put the Lions over the top 75-65 against the Crimson last Friday. Columbia showed its defensive qualities in holding Harvard to 0–20 from the field in over 11 minutes of play.

“Columbia has that extra little fire right now, especially after that win against Harvard,” head coach Allison Guth said. “I’m really impressed with Columbia and what Coach [Megan] Griffith is doing. They’re starting five with guard skills, so we want to be really good coming off of ball screens and staying clean on defense.”

Columbia boasts one of the youngest squads in the league, but the strong class of rookies has made its mark already, contributing 52 percent of the team’s scoring, 54 percent of its boards and 62 percent of its assists this season. Durr was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the fourth time on Monday after a weekend during which she averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Fellow first years Hardy and Casey are the second and third-best shooters from long-range in the Ancient Eight, and Casey has dropped five or more three-pointers in a game on two occasions thus far, going 5–10 against Harvard.

Yale has struggled with slow starts thus far in the season, putting up just seven first-quarter points on 27 percent shooting in last week’s loss to Penn.

Against the league leading Quaker defense, the Bulldogs looked lost in the opening minutes before settling into its own defense to shut out physical center Eleah Parker and to hold Penn to under 29 percent shooting for the rest of the game.

“We know how good of a team we are, and we knew we didn’t play to our capabilities in the first half [against Penn],” point guard Roxy Barahman ’20 said. “We came out with the mindset that we were going to prove that Princeton wasn’t a fluke, and we are the top team to contend with.”

Victorious in the four games prior to the matchup with the Quakers, the Elis are looking to return to their winning ways. Returning to John J. Lee Amphitheater is a good place to start, as the Bulldogs have yet to lose at home in over a year. Playing for the home crowd, Yale is putting up over 70 points per game in its six home games this season, compared to its 62.5-point average across its 12 road games. The Bulldogs shoot 45.5 percent from the field at Lee and just 37.9 percent when away.

Yale plays the third-best defense in the conference on Saturday night, matching up in what will likely be a low-scoring affair, as the Big Red has the league’s least productive offensive. Despite holding its opponents to around 59 points this season, Cornell has lost five in a row and will look to lift its spirits against Brown before traveling to New Haven.

The Elis went back to the basics, practicing their guard-to-post play this week, in preparation for Columbia and Cornell. In both contests, the Bulldogs will have to have sharp passing inside, as both visitors will anticipate Yale’s inside-out scoring game.

“We’ve had a good week really focusing on fundamentals,” Guth said. “We did some station work on footwork and finding ways to play to our advantage at the rim. Columbia will play us similar to Harvard with run-and-jump man pressure before falling back in a 2-3. We’ll have to be really sharp in the backcourt and take care of the ball against the zone.”

Tip-off is at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu