NEW YORK, N.Y. – Facing one of its toughest opponents of the season Thursday afternoon at the 11th annual Fordham Holiday Classic, the Yale women's basketball team did a lot of things right. The Bulldogs held UC Davis to 71 points, the Aggies' fourth-lowest total of the season. They limited UC Davis' star center Morgan Bertsch to a season-low 10 points -- less than half of what she averaged coming into the game. And they got 11 more shot attempts than the Aggies. But UC Davis' sharp-shooting eventually proved to be too much -- the Aggies shot 48 percent en route to beating the Bulldogs 71-61 and earning a spot in Friday's championship game.
Both teams got off to cold starts, combining to hit two of the first 13 shots. But after UC Davis got a three from forward Pele Gianotti to go up 5-2 and senior guard Tamara Simpson responded with a three of her own just 23 seconds later, the pace of scoring started to pick up. A 14-7 run by the Aggies prompted a Yale timeout, and the UC Davis lead remained at seven as the first quarter ended.
Yale (7-5, 0-0 Ivy League) remained within striking distance of the Aggies throughout the second quarter, getting within one on a three-pointer by sophomore guard Roxy Barahman with 5:14 left. But the Aggies never gave up their lead, and were up 38-33 heading into halftime.
UC Davis (10-2, 0-0 Big West) was hindered by Bertsch getting into foul trouble -- she was whistled for her second with 4:50 left in the second quarter while attempting to pull a rebound away from senior forward Jen Berkowitz. That was one of 15 rebounds on the day for Berkowitz, who also scored 13 points and played a big role in stymieing Bertsch.
"I thought Berk did an amazing job," said Allison Guth, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball. "Our game plan was to double Bertsch, and that really worked. That was a major bonus. Jen was tremendous."
But Yale hit a cold spell at an inopportune time -- as the third quarter got underway -- and that shifted momentum for the rest of the half. The Bulldogs missed their first eight shots, so by the time they got back on the board with a Barahman free throw at the 6:24 mark UC Davis' lead had reached double digits.
"We just practiced coming out for the third quarter yesterday, and we went on a 9-0 run in our scrimmage," said Guth. "We have got to find a way to come out with a bit more fight. We got back on our heels defensively, and that shifted momentum."
Simpson got Yale within six by driving and drawing a foul; that three-point play was part of an 18-point day for her. Fresh off joining Yale's 1,000- point club in the last game, she once again led the team in scoring -- her fifth time doing so this season, and fourth time in the last six games she has played.
"She's on a mission this season," said Guth. "Give credit to her. There hasn't been one game this season where she hasn't shown up, fought and competed. She leaves it all out on the floor."
But while Bertsch was limited, UC Davis turned to some of its other scoring options to keep the Bulldogs at bay. A pair of layups by guard Rachel Nagel helped build the Aggies lead to nine heading into the fourth quarter. Nagel would go on to lead the team in scoring with 17 points. Forward Cierra Hall's 15 points were a big reason why UC Davis had a 25-6 edge in bench scoring and a 38-28 advantage on points in the paint.
The Aggies' lead got as large as 18 points in the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs chipped away and got within seven after Barahman hit a three. But there were just nine seconds left at that point; three free throws by UC Davis in the final seven seconds made the final score 71-61.
Barahman finished with 17 points and added five rebounds. Simpson added six steals.
Yale plays Hartford, which lost to Fordham 69-44 Thursday, in the consolation game at 1:00 p.m. Friday.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity