With the first round of regular season matchups in the books, the race toward the Ivy League tournament is virtually wide-open.
The Yale women’s basketball team (15–8, 5–3 Ivy) finds itself sitting in third place in the Ivy League standings, with only three weekends of back-to-back game nights remaining to decide which four teams will compete in the Ivy Madness tournament in March. An ugly loss at the hands of sixth-place Cornell (9–10, 3–5) may have shaken the Elis, but they have no time to dwell on the frustrating 43–41 defeat. The Bulldogs hit the road for their next four games, which will include a hotly anticipated rematch with a Harvard team (12–9, 5–3) hungry for revenge.
“The lessons we take from first round of Ivy play is anybody can beat anyone,” head coach Allison Guth said. “If [the Cornell loss] didn’t [affect our confidence] and shake us a little bit, I think there’d be something wrong with us.”
Though the team has struggled with consistency this season, the Harvard team dealt previously undefeated Penn its first loss last Saturday. The Crimson has run hot and cold, splitting back-to-backs each of the past three weekends. It took 40 minutes of regulation and double overtime to put the Quakers away, but the Crimson was able to find holes in Penn’s seemingly impenetrable, league-leading zone defense.
Yale and Harvard have identical conference records, with the Elis just edging out the Crimson with a better overall win percentage thanks to a busier preseason schedule. Second-place Princeton is ahead of the two teams with the same number of wins but one fewer loss because of a scheduling irregularity in which the Tigers will not get a rematch with the Quakers until Feb. 26. The next three teams battling for a shot at qualifying for Ivy Madness all stand at 3–5 in conference play, each with quality wins over the top four squads.
Five of the Elis’ previous six games have come down to the wire, and while that has made for some thrilling finishes — including point guard Roxy Barahman’s ’20 now-famed last-second heave that devastated the Crimson at Lee Amphitheater and ended up number two on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 highlight reel — the Bulldogs have experienced their fair share of heartbreakers as well.
After rallying from a 16-point hole to the Quakers to get within two with 26 seconds left, the Bulldogs came up short, losing the game on free throws to the top-seeded team. The previous night, the Bulldogs needed extra time to beat the Tigers after blowing a seven-point lead with just over three minutes in regulation.
“It’s something special that we’ve seen about our team a lot of times so far this season,” forward Camilla Emsbo ’22 said. “We don’t get down when we’re not playing our best, and they have a lead. We’ve got a lot of players who are willing to step up and say, ‘You know what, who cares. Let’s get after it.’”
The battle-tested Bulldogs have a lot going for them. Their defense is second-best in the conference and holds opponents to just under 36 percent shooting from the field. And in the last 12 months, they have only lost one home game. On the player side, Emsbo was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the sixth time this past week, more than any other player. She is 13th in the league in scoring and third in both rebounding and blocked shots.
The Elis also have Barahman as a floor general, who, aside from her unmatched ability to pull off late-game heroics and her unflappable confidence, is the only Ivy League player among both men and women who is in the league’s top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game this season. Barahman has held the scoring crown since the beginning of Ivy play and has set a new career-high point total four times since the start of the preseason. She currently leads the league averaging 19.7 points per game — well above her 13.5 average from the 2017–18 season.
But Barahman is also second in the league in minutes, averaging nearly 36 minutes on the floor night-to-night. The Bulldogs heavily rely on Barahman to generate offense, but when the opposing team stifles her attacking abilities, the Elis struggle. Barahman was held to 15 or fewer points in the Bulldogs’ last five losses.
In the loss to Cornell, Yale scored just 41 points on 26 percent shooting from the field, 29 percent from long-range and 61 percent from the free throw line. Barahman went 4–14 and 2–6 from three.
Despite its overall winning record, Yale is second-to-last in offensive efficiency in the conference and shoots a dismal 27.4 percent from beyond the arc and just 63 percent from the foul line.
“We got our bigs a lot of touches, and Roxy’s the reason they got those touches, but our bigs weren’t good tonight with finishing at the rim,” Guth said after the loss. “[Camilla] went 2–8, Maund went 3–7 and Cade went 2–9 … We just have to be better than that.”
Yale is 7–1 at John J. Lee Amphitheater this season.
Julianna Lai | firstname.lastname@example.org