In just eight days, the top four women’s basketball teams in the Ivy League will battle it out at John J. Lee Amphitheater for a chance to compete in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. With the Yale women’s basketball team firmly positioned in fourth place, the top two teams in the conference are obstacles on the Bulldogs’ path to earn one of the final two spots in the Ivy League Tournament.
If Ivy Madness were to take place today, the Bulldogs (16–11, 6–6 Ivy) would just make the cut. But with four teams — Cornell (11–12, 5–7), Dartmouth (12–13, 5–7), Harvard (14–11, 7–5) and Yale — in contention for third and fourth place, the final bracket is far from decided. The Elis will face league-leaders Penn (20–5, 10–2) and Princeton (18–9, 10–2) this weekend to decide their postseason fate. Two wins would guarantee the Bulldogs a ticket to the tournament regardless of how the other teams fare in the final weekend of regular season play. But things get much messier if the Bulldogs are unable to pull off the weekend sweep.
“Our team is very aware of the scenarios that get us into the tournament, but at the end of the day, we talk about the things we can control, and we’re not focused on any of those scenarios,” head coach Allison Guth said. “We’ve proved that we have the talent with our wins in the beginning of the year, but we haven’t earned our way to the tournament yet the way we’ve been playing these last few weeks.”
Like the Bulldogs, the third-place Crimson also controls its own destiny. Two losses to Cornell and Columbia would result in Harvard falling out of the top-four in the event that it finds itself in a three-way tie with Cornell and Yale. After a series sweep, the Big Red holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bulldogs and could earn a spot in the tournament with wins over Harvard and Dartmouth and at least one Bulldog loss this weekend. The Big Green could also sneak into the tournament if it splits its games against Cornell and Columbia and ends in a four-way tie with Columbia, Cornell and Yale for the fourth spot, having split the season series with the Bulldogs.
But on Alumnae Weekend, the Bulldogs will focus solely on toppling two teams hungry for the opportunity to clinch a regular season Ancient Eight championship. With identical conference records, Penn and Princeton are currently in a tussle for the conference title and the all-important No. 1 seed in Ivy Madness.
The Bulldogs will look to avenge a narrow loss to the Quakers on Friday. Penn’s 54-48 win against the Elis at the Palestra last month was determined by free throws in the final thirty seconds of play. Although the Elis overcame a slow start, scoring just seven points in the first quarter, and brought the game within two points with 26 seconds remaining, the Quakers were able to close it out in crunch time.
In that first matchup, Quaker standout center Eleah Parker outscored the Bulldogs by herself in the opening 10 minutes. But she was forced to the bench after finding herself in foul trouble, which quickly led to a Bulldogs comeback. The 6-foot-4-inch sophomore is coming off of a 19-point and eight-rebound performance against Dartmouth. Finding a way to control the paint and counter Parker’s presence will be pivotal to a Bulldog win.
The following night, the Tigers will be out for revenge when they visit New Haven after the Bulldogs stole the first game in New Jersey in a 96–86 overtime triumph. But since pulling off the historic win in the fourth week of Ivy action — the Elis’ first at Jadwin in 10 years, which set a new school record for points scored — Yale has gone just 2–5. Meanwhile, Princeton is on an eight-game winning streak following that loss.
“It’s going to be about how we score against Penn’s defense, and I think our zone offense has gotten a lot better since we played them the first time,” Guth said. “Princeton has really stepped up their defense in the second half of Ivy play and for us it will be about maintaining possession of the ball to attack downhill because we’re not going to have very many of those one-on-one opportunities.”
Averaging 24.4 points per game in conference play for the Tigers, junior forward Bella Alarie has led the way for the Tigers, posting double-doubles almost nightly and shooting over 50 percent from the field.
The reigning Ivy Player of the Year missed the majority of the preseason due to a broken right arm, but has since been named Ivy League Player of the Week seven times and is arguably the league’s most versatile scorer inside and out.
“With elite players like Bella, it’s all about containing and trying not to let her get too hot,” Guth said. “When we study Princeton, there isn’t a lot of double-teaming you can do because of the guards that can shoot from outside. But I really like [forward Camilla Emsbo ’22] on her. I think she does some good things with her size that Bella isn’t used to.”
In the first meeting of the season, the Bulldogs outlasted the Tigers in a back-and-forth affair that featured five lead changes. After giving up a seven-point lead with a series of sloppy possessions in the final minutes of regulation, the Elis regained their composure in overtime, going 10 for 12 from the free throw line and out rebounding the Tigers 8 to 1 in the final five minutes to pull out the victory.
Coming off of a much needed win against Columbia last Saturday, the Bulldogs will need to play to their strengths inside and limit their turnovers this weekend against two high-quality and opportunistic defenses.
“The kids are locked in. I think we’ve turned the tide, and we’re playing with more aggressiveness and freedom making decisions on the floor,” Guth said. “This weekend we’re taking it one game at a time.”
Tip-off is at 6 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday at Lee Amphitheater.
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