After suffering its first conference loss of the season against Harvard last weekend, the Yale women’s basketball team now faces its greatest challenge yet: back-to-back games against defending champions and Ivy League preseason poll favorites Princeton and Penn.
Although the Bulldogs (15–4, 5–1 Ivy) enter the weekend without their historic eight game win streak in tow, there is no time to lament the loss as all attention is shifted to Princeton (17–1, 5–0) and Penn (13–5, 3–2). The Tigers and Quakers lay claim to every Ivy League women’s basketball championship since 2010 with six and four titles respectively. Nevertheless, the Blue and White has reason to believe it can break through this season –– it is currently off to its best start in program history and leads the Ivy League with 73.6 points per game. This Friday, Yale returns home for the first time in 27 days, where they are 6–1 for the season.
“We’re excited about the chance to take on two teams that have consistently finished atop our league,” guard Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21 said. “Our team likes a challenge, but we also know that we don’t need to have perfect games to finish with wins. We feel like we have the tools to succeed and are looking forward to what will undoubtedly be two really competitive games.”
Despite the historic nature of this season, the Bulldogs lost to archrival Harvard last Friday, marking the eighth year in a row Yale has dropped the away game against the Crimson. In a game of fierce back-and-forth efforts, the Elis were unable to hold on to brief bursts of momentum and were ultimately held to their lowest point total of the season.
However, the loss did not stunt the Bulldogs at Dartmouth. A dominant defensive effort held the Big Green to just 32 percent shooting and ensured a strong 67–47 win to round out last weekend’s games.
“We were disappointed with our performance on Friday, particularly our rebounding effort and knew the game against Dartmouth was a must win,” guard Tori Andrew ’21 said. “We felt like we got away from how we normally play against Harvard, so coming into Saturday we were extremely focused on doing all the little things we’ve prided ourselves on throughout the season, and that emphasis resulted in a win.”
This Friday, the Elis will turn their attention to Princeton, their toughest opponent in the Ivy League. The Tigers are riding the momentum of a 13-game winning streak — tied for the fourth longest active streak in the country. After five conference games, no Ancient Eight team has come close to challenging Princeton — the Tigers have defeated opponents by an average of nearly 24 points. The Tigers’ defense is also ranked first in the nation, allowing only 48.5 points a game.
The Tigers are led by senior Bella Alarie, the reigning Ivy Player of the Year. At 6-foot-4, Alarie is a versatile player listed at both guard and forward. Though she possesses the physicality and height necessary to be a dominant player on the inside, she is also a shooting threat and a premier perimeter defender. Alarie averages 17.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, putting her at second in the Ivy League in scoring behind only Penn’s Kayla Padilla.
Besides Alarie, the Blue and White will also have to contend with junior guard Carlie Littlefield, who averages 13.7 points per game.
Last season, the Bulldogs lost all four of their contests against Penn and Princeton. Although the Quakers and Tigers have dominated the Ancient Eight for years, Yale has an opportunity to change that narrative and assert themselves as a legitimate contender for the conference title.
Led by guard Roxy Barahman ’20, forward Camilla Emsbo ’22 and Andrews, the Bulldogs are powered by their efficient offense. Their .447 shooting percentage is 20 percentage points better than the next best team Columbia, and the Bulldogs also lead the league in three-point shooting percentage with a mark of .354. The Bulldogs’ high-octane offense will be put to the test against the Tigers and Quakers, as they boast the two best defenses in the conference.
This weekend’s contests at John J. Lee Amphitheater will be a clash of the top teams in the Ancient Eight. The results could have significant ramifications on the rest of the campaign as teams vie for one of four spots in the Ivy Tournament in March.
“We’re excited,” forward Alex Cade ’21 said. “But we’re treating it like any other game. What [Princeton and Penn] did last year is great for them, but we’re playing to prove a point: we can compete, and we can and will win these games as long as we play Yale basketball.”
Friday’s matchup against the league-leading Tigers tips off at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game begins at 4 p.m. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN+.
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