The Yale women’s basketball team somehow survived and advanced in an instant classic in the WBI semifinal against visiting South Alabama, roaring back from 11 points down with under two minutes to go to pull off a stunning comeback 76-74 win in overtime.
found itself home for the first time in twenty eight days, but could not find its shooting touch until the game’s sixteenth minute. By that time, the Bulldogs (18-13) were 1 for their first 25 and down 19 to the visiting Jaguars of South Alabama from the Sun Belt conference (21-13). The Elis then went on a 11-2 run to close out the first half down only 29-19.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs continued to chip away at the Jaguars lead on the strength of its three point shooting. In the first 20 minutes, the Bulldogs were 1-for-14 from beyond the arc, but the first ten minutes of the second half saw them hit five of 10 three-pointers. In that time, starting center Jen Berkowitz hit two of three and first year reserve guard Tori Andrew came off the bench to hit three of three. Heading into the fourth quarter, South Alabama was holding onto a 46-42 lead.
Andrew’s fourth three pointer of the game, coming at the 8:58 mark, knotted the contest at 46. Yale then went cold from the floor, hitting only 1 of its next 11 shots as South Alabama rebounded to take a 62-51 lead with only 2:05 left in regulation. Just when the game and its season seemed over, the Bulldogs found a second wind.
Andrew hit a three from the left side of the top of the arc at the 1:51 mark to cut the lead to eight. Berkowitz then blocked a layup attempt from the Jaguars’ Antoinette Lewis and the hit a streaking Tamara Simpson, who hit a three from the right side to make the game 62-57 with 90 seconds to go. With the teams still separated by five points at the 30-second mark, Simpson notched her 127th steal of the season and received a pass from Roxy Barahman for a layup to cut the deficit to three with 45 seconds left.
After South Alabama’s Saforia Kines hit one of two free throws, Berkowitz was fouled down low and made both free throws to make it 63-61 with 33 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Following another 1-for-2 trip to the line from South Alabama, Andrew threw up an airball three. Berkowitz saved the ball from going out of bounds, finding an open Simpson who drained a game tying three with 25 seconds left. Simpson then blocked and stole the inbounds pass to get the ball back to Yale with 19 seconds to go. Ellen Margaret Andrews missed a three at the buzzer and the game was going into overtime.
Following a LaNeetra Guillory three that put the Jaguars up three 30 seconds into the extra session, Alexandra Maund hit back-to-back layups to give Yale its first lead of the night, 68-67, with at the 3:30 mark. South Alabama hit two free throws and a layup, while Tori Andrew hit her first two pointer of the night to leave the Jaguars with a 71-70 lead. Maund rebounded a missed Simpson three and was fouled after making the putback layup. She hit the free throw and the old fashion three gave the Bulldogs a 73-71 lead with 84 seconds left. The Elis were sent to the free throw line and hit only three of six, while the Jaguars had a made three to leave Yale with a two point lead. South Alabama had the ball with 12 seconds left and one last chance for the tie or win, but two missed missed mid-range jumpers left Yale with the incredible 76-74 victory.
Berkowitz ended the night with 19 blocks, eight rebounds and four blocks. Andrew hit five three-pointers and completed the game with 18 points. Simpson had 12 points, six rebounds and seven steals. The senior guard, a two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, ended the night with 129 steals on the year, a new Ancient Eight record. Despite going 0-for-11 in the second half and overtime, Barahman ended up with 14 points to go along with her 12 rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Maund added seven points, all coming in the overtime period to push the Bulldogs over the top.
Yale earned its 18th win of the year, a single-season record number of victories for the program. When interviewed by the Yale Sports Network after the game, Simpson was asked to try and put the game and the team’s accomplishment into perspective. “It’s a huge deal for me. I’m so happy we could do it on our home court, especially the last home game of the season. My class worked so hard over the last four years and it’s so special that we were able to make history here tonight in front of our fans and our family members. It’s really a great feeling.”
The Bulldogs will now face Central Arkansas (25-9) in the WBI Final, which defeated Nevada in the other semifinal on Saturday night. The Sugar Bears won the Southland Conference Tournament in 2016 and 2017 to make it into the NCAA Tournament. They have three straight years of 25 or more wins and are 41-5 at home over that same period. Central Arkansas has won 10 of its last 12 games and its defense in second in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 50.8 points per game and 40th in allowed field goal percentage of 37.1 percent.
The game will take place on Thursday at the Farris Center in Conway, Ark. at 8:00 p.m. EST (7:00 p.m. CST). The game will be broadcast on the Southland Conference website.
When asked how they will prepare for the finals, Simpson told the Yale Sports Network, “We’re going to do what we usually do. Go to practice, work our butts off and prepare to win the WBI championship. I feel like a champion already, so I know the only thing left is to go on the court and win.”
While most of the college basketball world is focused on Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ improbable Final Four run, Ivy hoops fans have their own underdog championship team to cheer on as the calendar approaches April. Win or lose, the league and its fans should be proud of the hard work, determination and class showed by coach Allison Guth’s Bulldogs.