NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Entering Friday's Ivy League opener at Lee Amphitheater the Brown women's basketball team was riding high, leading the Ivy League in offense and boasting a 10-game winning streak. But Yale may have had something more valuable. It had been two weeks since the Bulldogs last played a game, a rare break of that length right in the middle of a season. During that time Yale clearly put in the work needed to start league play on the right foot, as the Bulldogs -- who had lost three in a row prior to the break -- held the Bears to a season-low 63 points en route to claiming a 77-63 win in front of an enthusiastic matinee crowd.
"It's simple," said Allison Guth, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball. "We went 11 straight days of practice. Our kids committed to getting into the gym, taking 500 shots a day. We practiced and worked our tails off. We talked about valuing the possession, and we only turned the ball over 10 times today. We talked about our pressure, we talked about our 2-3 [zone]. There's no substitute for hard work. I'm so proud. I have never gone that long in a row practicing -- even in the preseason we haven't done that. But our kids were committed to it."
The results of the Bulldogs' efforts showed in many ways. Brown was averaging 82 points per game entering the day, but a 31-point first half for the Bears made it clear that scoring was going to be hard to come by on this day. Brown averaged nearly 10 made three-pointers per game entering the day, but hit just five on Friday.
"That's part of our game plan," said Guth. "They were contested threes."
And at times Brown (12-2, 0-1 Ivy League) struggled just to maintain possession -- thanks in part to an eight-steal effort by Yale senior guard Tamara Simpson.
"Those steals came in moments where our backs were against the ropes," said Guth. "Those steals by 'T' -- and the way she converts off them -- are momentum shifts for us. They are hugely important. I think that's why we're able to score the ball a little bit more this year, because our pressure turns into higher percentage buckets at the rim. She's Tamara and she was relentless."
Along with the standout defensive effort, Yale (8-6, 1-0 Ivy League) also got balanced scoring. The leader there was senior forward Jen Berkowitz, who scored 20 points (and grabbed nine rebounds) despite being a focal point of the Bears' defense.
"That's with a lot of pressure inside, drawing double- and triple-teams and still finding a way to put 20 points on," said Guth.
The game was a back-and-forth affair for much of the day. A 10-3 run by the Bulldogs near the end of the first half gave them a 37-28 lead, but Brown forward Mary Butler hit a three-pointer to send her team into halftime with momentum. The Bears then eventually took the lead in the third.
Brown never led by more than two points in the third, though. A layup by Berkowitz with 1:52 left gave Yale a one-point lead, and a Simpson-steal-and-layup -- Yale's fourth steal in the final 3:03 of the quarter -- made the score 49-46 Yale. After Brown forward Janie White answered with a layup, sophomore guard Roxy Barahman rolled in a three-pointer just before time expired.
The fourth quarter was all Bulldogs, as they outscored the Bears 25-15. Senior forward Mary Ann Santucci drilled a three-pointer at 8:25 to extend the lead to five, and after Brown made one last rally to tie the game 58-58 Yale went on a 10-0 run that included four points each from Berkowitz and Simpson along with two from Barahman.
By the time the Bears ended that run with a three-point play by Butler, just 2:07 remained. The Bulldogs closed out the game with a 9-2 run for the 77-63 final, Brown's largest margin of defeat since an 86-60 loss at Penn Jan. 14, 2017.
In addition to Berkowitz' 20, Barahman scored 17 (with six assists), Simpson added 15 and first-year forward Ellen Margaret Andrews had 12. Yale also got a season-high 11 rebounds from sophomore forward Megan Gorman, who chipped in six points.
That all added up to a decisive win over the top-scoring offense in the league.
"Our biggest goal was to take away transition opportunities for them to score," said Guth. "They put a lot of numbers on the board when they can push. Finding ways to slow them in containment-type pressure situations and then get back into that 2-3 [zone] worked."
And when the Bulldogs were done with the win, they didn't just head straight to the locker room to celebrate amongst themselves. They wound up lining up to high-five and sign autographs for dozens of youngsters from local schools, who helped add to the home court advantage at Lee Amphitheater while most of the Yale undergraduates are still on break.
"That was huge," said Guth appreciatively. "They were the sixth man. Having that type of energy, when your kids can entertain and put their product on the floor and play in front of friends and family -- it's huge."
The same two teams meet next Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Providence, R.I.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity