NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Heading into Saturday's meeting with Harvard at Lee Amphitheater, the Yale women's basketball team gathered at 1:00 p.m. to start the pre-game preparation. Coming off an emotionally draining 64-62 overtime loss to Dartmouth the night before -- a game in which the Bulldogs had an 18-point lead -- Allison Guth, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball, was paying close attention to how her team carried itself. And she liked what she saw.
"After the gut-wrenching loss last night, you really find out about the character of a team -- the way that they respond," said Guth. "These guys came in at 1:00 p.m. today with such a positive attitude about who we are and what we're about. That's what I'm stepping away with -- I'm really proud of 1:00 today and what their attitude was. Any greatness in athletics is not marked by perfection, it's about the consistency of responding to adversity. Last night felt like the biggest punch in the gut."
Adding to the emotional mix for Yale Saturday was the knowledge that the last time the Bulldogs faced the Crimson they allowed 97 points, the most any opponent has scored on them this year.
With a large and boisterous home crowd providing even further motivation, Yale went on to put together the perfect response to its struggles from the night before: a thrilling 69-63 win over its archrival. Sophomore guard Roxy Barahman led the way with 20 points and eight assists, while sophomore forward Megan Gorman had 10 rebounds. Yale's seniors -- forward Jen Berkowitz, guard Mary Ann Santucci and guard Tamara Simpson -- set the tone with both their actions and their words.
"You could tell how badly those three seniors wanted it," said Guth. "I thought Tucci's defense was incredible. She just was really locked in. Just so proud of them."
First-year guard Tori Andrew pointed to Santucci's leadership off the court as a key part of the 24-hour turnaround.
"Our captain made sure to get us all together," said Andrew. "She made sure that we knew we had to use the sting of last night to propel us to this game."
Berkowitz finished with 17 points, while Simpson added 10 points, eight rebounds and four steals. She was all over the court in the waning moments, helping turn a 63-63 tie into a 69-63 Yale win with three points, three rebounds and a pair of steals in the final 1:27.
"'T' played with a sense of urgency, that nobody was going to take this from her tonight for her teammates," said Guth. "I thought she was relentless; she was amazing. She also vocally led tonight, which was really special."
The game was close throughout. A three by Simpson at 2:06 of the first quarter gave Yale an 18-9 lead, but Harvard (14-9, 6-4 Ivy League) eventually came all the way back for a 35-34 lead before a layup by Berkowitz sent Yale into halftime up by one. Neither team led by more than four during the third quarter; three-pointers by Andrew and Barahman in the final :41 sent Yale into the fourth up 55-51.
The final quarter wound up being pivotal in many ways; not only did Yale seal the win, but the Bulldogs also limited Harvard to just 12 points. That was further proof of how far the team has come defensively since the game in Cambridge, Mass., last month.
"I think the biggest thing for us was that we knew our transition defense suffered the first time we were there when we tried to extend ourselves in pressure," said Guth. "So we switched the whole game plan. It was a little bit of a 'Braveheart' retreat mode, and everybody get back."
A three-pointer by Harvard guard Katie Benzan with 3:08 to play gave Harvard a two-point lead, but Berkowitz tied the game with a pair of free throws before Simpson's late heroics clinched the victory.
As Simpson dribbled off the final seconds of the win, the Bulldogs basked in the glow of a standing ovation from the crowd and then headed over to salute the Yale Precision Marching Band.
"It's awesome," said Barahman of the fan support. "That was one of the biggest crowds we've had. The fan support is amazing. It's the Yale-Harvard game, everyone wanted to come out. To be able to play in front of a home crowd like that meant a lot."
The win also moved Yale into a three-way tie for third in the standings, knotted with Dartmouth and Harvard. The top four teams make the league's postseason tournament in Philadelphia Mar. 10-11.
"We were fired up from when we woke up this morning as a team," said Andrew, who finished with 14 points and hit 4-of-6 from three-point territory. "We knew that this game was high stakes for us as far as postseason play goes … We had to prove it to ourselves, our coaches and to our opponents that we are here to play in the postseason."
Yale (13-10, 6-4 Ivy League) now heads into the final two weekends of the regular season with some valuable lessons learned from a roller-coaster weekend that ended on a high note. The Bulldogs host Cornell next Friday.
"I am so proud of our kids' gumption," said Guth. "It's not just the results, it's that we took care of the little things to get the result."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity