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Miraculous Comeback Earns 76-74 Victory in WBI Semis, Sets Wins Record

Jen Berkowitz and Alexandra Maund celebrate Yale's record-breaking win. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
Jen Berkowitz and Alexandra Maund celebrate Yale's record-breaking win. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – After the Yale women's basketball team fell behind by 11 to South Alabama with two minutes left in the WBI Semifinals Saturday night, things looked bleak for the Bulldogs. But senior guard Tamara Simpson and her teammates believed that -- amid a historic season that had them on the brink of breaking the school record for wins -- there was plenty of basketball left to be played.

"I remember looking at the clock and thinking, 'How crazy would it be for us to come back right now and win this game'," Simpson said. "I looked at my family, and my teammates, knowing that this would be my last game if we were to lose. I just knew no-one wanted to end it like that, especially after having such a messy first half of basketball. My teammates made big plays down the stretch, and we were all on the same page."

What followed will live in Yale women's basketball history.

Simpson was one of many heroes down the stretch, though it was first-year guard Tori Andrew who officially started the late rally by hitting a three-pointer at the 1:51 mark -- one of five threes in the game for her. She had also hit that same number of threes in Tuesday's 70-64 win at Binghamton in the quarterfinals.

"The WBI has turned out to be Tori's tournament, the way that she is shooting the ball, with confidence and poise," said Allison Guth, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Basketball. "She's also doing a lot of different things for us defensively. And it opens things up for [senior forward] Jen Berkowitz when we have that type of scoring threat outside."

Andrew's three cut South Alabama's lead to 62-54, and Berkowitz followed with a block. Next came another piece of history, as Simpson hit a three-pointer and then knocked the ball away from Jaguars forward Antoinette Lewis. It was one of seven steals in the game for Simpson, and it was her 126th of the season -- establishing an Ivy League record.

"Tamara absolutely earned that place in history," said Guth. "Defensively, she turned the tide for us. She doesn't focus on her individual stats, but all the work she put in has really paid off."

Things started getting more interesting after Simpson's next steal, as sophomore guard Roxy Barahman fed her for a layup that made it 62-59 with 47 seconds to play. Barahman was in the midst of a memorable night of her own, racking up 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.

After one free throw by South Alabama guard Shaforia Kines, two by Berkowitz, and one by USA forward Antoinette Lewis, the stage was set for another dramatic moment. With Yale down by three, Berkowitz chased down a missed three-pointer and sent the ball out to Simpson, who drained the game-tying shot from beyond the arc with 19 seconds to play.

Simpson added one more steal in the final seconds, but the Bulldogs could not get the game-winner in regulation. Still, just getting back to a 64-64 tie was an accomplishment -- especially since Yale (18-13, 8-6 Ivy League) had shot 1-for-25 to start the game. That was a big reason why the Bulldogs trailed by as many as 19 in the first half.

"It was a little disheartening at first," said Andrew. "But we have confidence in ourselves and we know that we can battle against anybody. They also came out particularly hot. Basketball's a game of runs, so we knew we would have ours and they would end theirs."

Indeed, it was 9-for-20 shooting from three-point territory in the second half that fueled Yale's comeback. But once overtime got underway the Jaguars once again took the lead. They were up 71-68 with just over two minutes to play, but Andrew hit a layup and junior forward Alexandra Maund followed with a putback at 1:24, earning a free throw that put Yale up 73-71. Maund would finish with eight rebounds.

South Alabama (21-13, 11-7 Sun Belt) got within 75-74 on a three-pointer by guard Genesis Perrymond with 18 seconds left. After Barahman hit one free throw but missed the second, the Jaguars got the ball and had three chances to tie the game -- but after Perrymond's attempted buzzer beater came up empty, the Bulldogs officially could celebrate their school-record 18th win of the season, 76-74. The previous record, 17, had been set in 1979-80.

Simpson's seven steals give her 129 for the season. The old Ivy League mark of 125 was set by Betsy Gilmore of Dartmouth in 1993-94. Simpson now has 361 career steals, nine away from Gilmore's Ivy record in that category.

"It's really exciting, ending my senior year breaking another steals record," said Simpson, who set the Yale career steals mark last year and has led the league in steals for four straight years. "It is so nice having my teammates behind me, and doing it on my home court."

In addition to the school record for wins, the Bulldogs now have a chance to become the first Ivy League women's team to win one of the three current national postseason tournaments (the NCAAs, the WNIT and the WBI).

There were a combined six Ivy League teams, men's and women's, who made postseason tournaments this year; Yale is the last of those teams left standing.

"It means a lot," said Andrew of the Bulldogs' record-breaking win. "To make history is something special. And no other Ivy League team is left playing … we have a chance to make a lot of different record books, so it's really exciting."

Berkowitz led Yale in scoring (19 points), while Andrew finished with 18.

Yale advances to play in the WBI Championship Thursday at Central Arkansas at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

 

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Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity