NEW HAVEN, Conn. – It was 40 minutes of basketball that felt like it was years in the making. After nearly a decade of struggles against rival Princeton, the Yale women's basketball team put together a complete effort against the Tigers Friday night -- and the result was a resounding 73-59 victory.
With five Ivy League titles in the last eight years, Princeton has been a tough matchup for every Ivy team. For Yale, the series against the Tigers had been a lopsided one ever since a 56-54 Bulldogs win at Lee Amphitheater on Feb. 13, 2009: Princeton had won the last 17 straight. And with 13 wins in its first 16 games, this year's edition of the Tigers looked as strong as ever. Of particular concern was the fact that the Tigers were among the nation's top teams defensively.
The game certainly meant a lot to Yale's three seniors -- forward Jen Berkowitz, guard Mary Ann Santucci and guard Tamara Simpson -- who were running out of chances to experience a win vs. the Tigers. And all three would wind up playing crucial roles Friday, combining for 33 points, 11 rebounds and nine steals. The significance of this game was not lost on any of their teammates, either.
"Especially for the seniors, we really wanted to get [Princeton]," said sophomore guard Roxy Barahman, who led the team with 17 points and six assists. "We were really pumped for them."
On what would be a historic night, things did not start out well for Yale (10-8, 3-2 Ivy League). After a pair of turnovers, a missed three-pointer and two missed free throws, the Bulldogs found themselves down 9-0 less than three minutes into the game. But Berkowitz helped settle things down with a three-pointer, sparking what would turn into a game-changing 19-5 run -- capped by a three-pointer from Santucci. The Bulldogs headed into the second quarter up 22-16.
"We were getting good looks," said Barahman. "I think we just needed to get in a rhythm. We weathered their storm. They had a couple nice shots to begin with, but we knew we were fine. We came together as a team and said we were fine."
The second quarter saw the Bulldogs begin establishing separation from the Tigers, thanks in part to the continued hot shooting of first-year guard Tori Andrew. Despite early foul trouble she sank two three-point attempts in the first five minutes of the second, giving her four for the game. The fourth extended Yale's lead to 35-20.
"We've been making it a goal as a team to get a lot of extra shots up outside of practice," said Andrew. "I think we just really invest in each other and believe in each other. When you shoot it thinking it's going in, it usually does."
Princeton forward Leslie Robinson, meanwhile, did her best to keep Princeton (13-4, 3-1 Ivy League) in the game. She scored 10 of the Tigers' 12 points in the second quarter, proving to be a tough inside force. But the Bulldogs got the final say in the half, as Santucci swished a buzzer-beating three-pointer to send Yale into halftime up 40-28.
"Tucci's buzzer-beater going into halftime, I thought that was huge," said Barahman. "Immediately, it pumped us up."
The lead remained in double digits throughout the third quarter, as Berkowitz and first-year forward Ellen Margaret Andrews combined for 10 points and Yale limited Princeton to a 3-for-11 performance from the field.
"A major key at first was trying to check on [guard/forward] Bella Alarie, their leading scorer, helping down in the post," said Barahman. "I think we really executed on that well [Alarie scored eight points, seven below her season average] … We were really able to play team defense tonight."
Entering the fourth quarter with a 55-41 lead, Yale got five quick points from Barahman to limit any possibility of a Tiger comeback. Simpson's three-pointer at 7:32 gave the Bulldogs a 19-point lead, and Princeton got no closer than 13 the rest of the way. With 1:44 to play Andrews drove in for two and drew a foul, hitting the free throw to make it 70-54. Barahman then capped Yale's scoring with a three-pointer in the final minute, and soon the final buzzer sounded and the celebration began. In addition to Barahman's team-best 17 points and six assists, the Bulldogs also got nine rebounds from sophomore forward Megan Gorman.
Amidst hugs and high fives, the Bulldogs took the time to acknowledge the crowd.
"The home crowd tonight was awesome," said Barahman. "They were just cheering us on. It's so much fun playing at home. That's why we got so much energy, so much more pumped up."
Meanwhile, Allison Guth -- Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball -- took a moment to reflect on yet another milestone victory for the team, which has been making steady progress in her third season as head coach.
"I had to take a step back walking off the floor," said Guth. "As a coach, to see your team able to celebrate something they haven't been able to celebrate in a series of 17 games, not taking [Princeton] down -- as a coach it's incredibly humbling and rewarding to see their hard work really come to fruition."
Friday's win was also a chance for Guth to reflect on not just the work of the current team, but also of those who came before. She mentioned some of the recent graduates who, in the past two years, helped her and her staff establish the foundation for the current team's success.
"When you have a team that you've struggled with traditionally, and in a short amount of time to do it [beat Princeton] in year three with our staff, it's all about people like Nyasha Sarju, Meredith Boardman, Emmy Allen, Whitney Wyckoff -- those kids that set the tone and have battled from day one. It's all those kids … It's about the whole program."
Yale hosts Penn Saturday at 5:00 p.m.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity