NEW HAVEN, Conn. – On a weekend where the Yale women's basketball team honors its seniors while also welcoming back its alums, Friday's game vs. Cornell at Lee Amphitheater wound up thrusting several first-year players into the spotlight. And the way those players responded went a long way towards helping the Bulldogs grind out a 69-56 win vs. the Big Red to maintain a tie for third in the Ivy League standings with just three games to go.
Yale (14-10, 7-4 Ivy League) has grown used to relying on its seniors -- forward Jen Berkowitz, guard Mary Ann Santucci and guard Tamara Simpson combine to average more than 30 points per game. And they contributed on Friday as well, with Simpson scoring a team-high 14 points (with five steals), Berkowitz adding 13 and Santucci six. But on a night where foul trouble plagued multiple Bulldogs and a pesky Cornell squad hung within one in the fourth quarter, Yale needed more out of its bench than usual -- and got it.
Cornell (6-18, 2-9 Ivy League) fell behind by as many as 10 in the first half, but cut that deficit to just four heading into halftime. Then, in the third, fouls started to catch up to Yale. Sophomore guard Roxy Barahman -- whose behind-the-back move after a steal in the second quarter helped electrify the home crowd -- picked up her third foul with 3:25 left in the third and headed to the bench. Berkowitz was already there, having picked up her third less than three minutes earlier.
Cue some key first-years for the Bulldogs: guard Tori Andrew came in for Barahman and forward Alex Cade came in for Berkowitz, joining their classmate, forward Ellen Margaret Andrews, to give the Bulldogs three rookies on the floor in a game that was tied 41-41.
Andrews set the tone by hitting a layup; Cade would later add a rebound. The Bulldogs were within one when Barahman and Berkowitz returned with 1:14 to play, a more-than-manageable deficit. Simpson capped the third with a steal, setting up a layup by Santucci that gave Yale a 48-47 lead heading into the fourth.
But things did not get any easier in the fourth, as Barahman and Berkowitz picked up their fourth fouls early and a three-pointer by guard Samantha Clement pulled Cornell within one, 54-53 with 7:31 left.
Then one of Yale's veterans, Simpson, began taking over. Her layup, followed by two free throws after a steal by Andrew, gave Yale some breathing room.
"Seeing our lead slip and having it only at one point really sparked a fire in me," said Simpson. "I looked at my teammates and said 'We're going to win this game'. I just got after it on defense."
For Simpson the crowd -- packed with alums along with family and friends -- helped provide even more motivation.
"We had so many of our family and friends in the crowd," said Simpson. "I remember at one point the alumni came down to get in the front row to really help us. It was so nice hearing so many chants after we scored … It really boosted us up."
Barahman and Berkowitz came back into the game, but for Berkowitz it was a short-lived return. After her three-point play extended the lead to 61-53 with 3:39 left, she picked up her fifth foul. The Bulldogs once again turned to Cade … and she immediately set the tone by swatting away a layup attempt by Cornell guard Danielle Jorgenson with 2:13 left to keep a seven-point lead intact.
For Cade's teammates, her chance to shine was a well-deserved one.
"Cade is just such a hard worker," said sophomore forward Megan Gorman, who led Yale with 12 rebounds. "Love that kid. Every day in practice she's going hard. Whatever the role she's given, whether she's on the scout team, whether she's on Yale for the day, she's giving her best. Throughout this whole season I've seen big things out of her. I've always believed in Cade. I knew when she came in for Jen down the stretch there that she could do her job and was going to do well … Other people haven't seen it, because a lot of the work has been behind the scenes, but she's a great player with a really bright future."
The Bulldogs then hit their free throws to seal the critical win, keeping pace with Harvard for third place as the Crimson upset Penn 55-52. The Bulldogs and Crimson are now one game behind the Quakers in the standings and three behind first-place Princeton.
Never losing sight of what's important, the Bulldogs took time out from their post-game celebration to meet and greet a group of Special Olympians who were on hand for the game. They now can turn their attention to Saturday's opponent, Columbia, and the final regular season home game for their accomplished senior class.
"We fought hard tonight. Cornell's historically a team that really fights hard through the whole thing," said Gorman. "A lot of things didn't go our way in the first half, or for that matter until essentially the fourth quarter, but we fought hard. It was kind of an ugly win to be honest, but I think that we just trusted ourselves down the stretch even as a lot of the things weren't going our way."
A Yale win on Saturday, combined with a Dartmouth loss, would clinch a spot in the Ivy Tournament for the Bulldogs.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity