One year after matching the best league record in the program's history to finish in second place and earn the league's automatic berth in the Women's National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), Yale begins its Ivy League season at Brown with its sights set on challenging for its first Ivy League championship since 1979. The Bulldogs are looking to remain perfect in 2012 after closing out non-league play with a New Year's Day victory over Army followed by a dominating wins at Bucknell and home vs. Baruch. Junior guard Megan Vasquez continues to lead the Bulldogs. She raised her scoring average to 13.6 points per game. Sophomore Janna Graf has continued her solid play of late and is averaging 14.0 ppg. and 6.6 rpg over Yale's last five games. Brown enters Ivy League play riding a six-game winning streak. The Bears have not lost a game since a 63-55 home loss to Fairfield on Nov. 30.
Ivy Quest Begins
The quest for the Ivy League championship is now under way as Princeton dominated Penn, 83-48, to tip off the double round-robin schedule on Jan. 7 at Penn. As the only Division I conference without a postseason tournament, the League's 14-game conference slate becomes the "tournament" to determine which Ivy team wins the title and earns an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. The team that finishes the season in second place earns the Ivy League's automatic bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament. Yale earned its first-ever WNIT bid last season after finishing a program-best 10-4 in league play. The Bulldogs begin Ivy League play at Brown on Friday. Princeton is the two-time defending Ivy League champion. Yale is pursuing its first Ivy League championship since the 1978-79 season, when the league champion was determined in a mid-season tournament.
Brown enters the Ivy League season riding a six-game winning streak, matching defending champion Princeton with the longest winning streak among Ivy League teams this season. The Bears, 9-4 overall, have not lost since a 63-55 loss at home to Fairfield. The Bears are 4-2 at home, losing the season-opener against New Hampshire, 62-57, and the game vs. Fairfield. Brown's home victories have come against Albany, Rhode Island, Providence and Vermont. Brown is the best defensive team in the Ivy League this season. The Bears have held their opponents to a league-low 55.2 points per game. Junior guard Sheila Dixon leads the Bears in scoring (13.4 ppg.), rebounding (5.9 rpg.) and steals (28). Senior captain Hannah Passafuime is second on the team in scoring (13.2 ppg.) and rebounding (5.5 rpg.).
In a series that dates back to Yale's first season as a varsity program in 1973-74, the two teams have met 72 times prior to this season. Brown owns a 42-30 advantage in the series. However, Yale is 7-5 against Brown during Chris Gobrecht's six previous seasons as Yale's head coach, including an even 3-3 at Brown. Last season, Yale pulled off the first season sweep of Brown since the 2007-08 season. It was the third time that either team swept the two-game season series during Chris Gobrecht's tenure as Yale's head coach. Brown swept the season series in Gobrecht's first season at Yale (2005-06).
Yale sophomore guard Janna Graf had the best game of her short career in the first meeting with Brown last year. On Jan. 14, 2011, she recorded career-highs in points (26), field goals made (10), attempts (17), 3-pointers made (6) and attempts (12). Senior Mady Gobrecht was the only other Bulldog to score in double figures. She finished with a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds, including 11 defensive rebounds. She also had four blocks. In the rematch at Brown, Yale's Megan Vasquez took control of the game and tallied a game-high 18 points with six rebounds, while Gobrecht recorded her second consecutive double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Michelle Cashen added 10 points and seven rebounds. After leading Brown with 21 points in the opening game of the series, Sheila Dixon was held to just eight points in the rematch. Lindsay Nickel led the Bears with 17 points, while Hannah Passafuime added 14 points.
Five in the Book
It is a pretty safe assumption that Brown's starting lineup is already set for Friday's game against Yale. In fact, Bears head coach Jean Marie Burr has stuck with the same five players at tip off in every game this season. Guards Hannah Passafuime, Sheila Dixon and Lauren Clarke, and forwards Aileen Daniels and Lindsay Nickel have started all 13 games for the Bears. All five are averaging at least 8.3 points per game. Brown is used to rolling out those five players for the opening tip. The same five players started 20 of Brown's 28 games together last season. Only injury or illness prevented that combination from starting every game last season.
Hannah Passafuime has scored in double figures in 10 of Brown's 13 games this season, including a season-high 18 points. Sheila Dixon has been nearly as consistent, scoring in double digits in nine of 13 games, including a 26-point performance against Providence College.
Brown's Jonathan Parsons, a third-year assistant coach for the Bears, has strong ties to Connecticut. The 2008 graduate of Sacred Heart was a four-year student manager for the men's basketball team while he was a student there. He then served as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of New Haven for a year prior to joining the staff at Brown. He also was an assistant coach for the Connecticut Breeze U-16 AAU program.
Last Time Out
Yale raced past Division III power Baruch, 80-47, in its final tune-up before beginning Ivy League play. Yale closed out its non-league schedule with an 8-6 mark, its best non-league finish since the 1993-94 season (8-4). The point total matches Yale's highest scoring output this season. Janna Graf scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, narrowly missing her second double-double of the season. Michelle Cashen also had 15 points to go with seven rebounds. Freshman guard Sarah Halejian matched her career-high with 14 points and added three steals. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Bearcats 53-37, and turned 16 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. Defensively, Yale was even more impressive. The Bulldogs limited the Bearcats to just 19-for-61 shooting. The 31.1 shooting percentage is the lowest by a Yale opponent this season.
Blowout at Bucknell
On the road for the final time in non-league play, Yale dominated Bucknell to take a 69-48 victory in Lewisburg, Pa. The Bulldogs were led by Megan Vasquez, who scored a game-high 17 points behind 7-for-12 shooting performance. Janna Graf tallied 13 points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks, while freshman guard Sarah Halejian added 13 points and four assists. The Bulldogs put together their best shooting performance of the season, hitting 49.1 percent of their shots (26-of-53), including a season-best 54.5 percent from 3-point range (6-for-11). The Bulldogs were especially efficient in the second half, draining 13 of their 19 shots (68.4 percent). The Bulldogs pulled away from the Bison through the first 16 minutes of the second half, opening up a lead that reached 28 points (67-39).
Survival of the Fittest
Army freshman Olivia Schretzman had a chance to lift Army to a come-from-behind victory, but her eight-foot jumper at the buzzer rolled in and out of the basket, allowing Yale to survive with a 63-62 win on New Year's Day at Yale. Yale saw five players score at least eight points. Michelle Cashen recorded her eighth career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. Megan Vasquez also scored 11 points. Freshmen Sarah Halejian (9 points) and Arrice Bryant (6 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) also turned in strong performances for Yale. Yale scored 21 of its points off of 16 Army turnovers. The Yale bench outscored Army's reserves 20-0. Army, however, outrebounded Yale 47-41. It is the ninth time in 12 games that Yale has been outrebounded. The Bulldogs are now 3-6 in those games.
More Ivy Recognition
After averaging 13.5 points, 3.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in leading Yale to a pair of wins last week, freshman guard Halejian was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Monday. This is the second Rookie of the Week award for Halejian (Dec. 19). Halejian matched her career-high with 14 points to go with three steals and two rebounds in an 80-47 win over Baruch on Sunday. Last Tuesday, Halejian started her week with a 13-point outing in Yale's 69-48 win at Bucknell. She also matched a personal-best with three rebounds and four assists. In the two games last week, Halejian was efficient with the basketball, shooting a combined 7-for-15 (.467) overall, 3-for-9 from 3-point range (.333), and a stellar 10-for-12 (.833) from the free-throw line. Halejian has scored in double figures in four games overall this season, and she has tallied at least nine points in five of the Bulldogs' last six games, averaging 10.3 points per game over that span.
Yale on YES
The YES Network, the broadcast home of major league baseball's New York Yankees, will feature Yale's men's and women's basketball teams in a two-game, winter TV package. The Yale women's basketball team tips off the Yale on YES package with its Ivy League contest against Dartmouth at the John J. Lee Amphitheater on Friday, Feb. 17. The Yale men's basketball team will close out the package with its home game against Columbi on Friday, Feb, 24. Both games will air live on YES beginning at 7 p.m.
Milestone Watch for Vasquez
Junior guard Megan Vasquez has now scored 878 career points. She needs just 122 points to reach 1,000 career points. She has four 20-point outings this season, including Holy Cross (23), Marist (21), Houston (22) and Boston University (22). Vasquez scored 322 points in her freshman season and 366 points last season. If she approaches her average of 344 points from her first two seasons, she should reach the 1,000-point milestone at some point during the Ivy League season. In doing so, Vasquez will become the 17th player in Yale's history to reach 1,000 career points. The last Bulldog to reach the milestone was Melissa Colborne, who closed out her career with 1,418 points, fifth on Yale's all-time scoring list. If Vasquez continues to maintain her 344-point pace, she would finish in sixth place on Yale's all-time list with 1,376 career points.
Report filed by Jon Erickson Jr., Yale Sports Publicity