Yale defeats Central Arkansas, 54-50, to take WBI championship

After spending most of Wednesday traveling 1,500 miles from New Haven to Atlanta to Little Rock to Conway, Ark., the Yale women’s basketball team had enough energy left in the tank to take down the University of Central Arkansas, 54-50, for the 2018 Women’s Basketball Invitational championship.

In a defensive contest that came down to the wire, first team All-Ivy senior forward Jen Berkowitz scored the final four points for the Bulldogs (19-13) in the final minute to seal the record setting victory in front of a jammed packed 3,500-plus partisan Farris Center crowd.

The Bulldogs struggled offensively for the second straight game, hitting only three of their first 11 shots in the opening 10 minutes.  The Sugar Bears (25-10), meanwhile, shot 7-for-14, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, to take a 18-11 lead after the first quarter. Yale fared slightly better in the second quarter, shooting 38 percent from the field, but its defense began to lock down Central Arkansas, holding the home team to 31 percent shooting.  After 20 minutes of action, the Elis found themselves down only 27-24.

Yale went on a 13-6 run over the first 5:24 of the third quarter to overtake the Sugar Bears and open up a four point lead, 37-33.  Both teams had difficulty putting the ball in the hoop over the rest of the quarter, but the Bulldogs held on to a 41-39 lead with 10 minutes to go in regulation.

An Angel Williams three at the 7:11 mark gave Central Arkansas a 44-43 advantage, but back-to-back jumpers from Roxy Barahman and Tamara Simpson reclaimed the lead for Yale with six minutes left.  oth teams went scoreless over the next four minutes, before UCA’s Taylor Baudoin scored four straight points for a one-point lead with 90 seconds to go. Barahman then drove the lane to trigger an old-fashioned three-point play that put Yale up 50-48 with 1:20 remaining.  Another Baudoin jumper knotted the game with 56 seconds left.

Berkowitz corralled an offensive rebound off a Barahman miss and was fouled on the putback layup to give the Bulldogs the 52-50 lead with 29 seconds left.  The Sugar Bears took the missed free throw and looked for a three to win the game. Without any outside opening, Taylor Sells drove the lane, but lost the ball out of bounds with only five seconds left. Berkowitz was fouled on the inbounds play and calmly hit both free throws to make it an insurmountable two-possession game with only a few moments left in the contest.  As the Sugar Bears missed a three at the buzzer, the Bulldogs celebrated their improbable title run.

Berkowitz and Simpson each scored 12 points for Yale, while Barahman added 10.  Despite their first-quarter shooting difficulties, the Elis hit 46 percent in the other three quarters to end the night shooting 42 percent.  While the three ball was not working (only three made threes), the Bulldogs had success from the free throw line. Coming into the game shooting only 65.6 percent for the season, they went 8-for-10 from the charity stripe.  

The Yale defense, which only forced four steals and 12 turnovers all night, shut UCA down from the field, holding the Sugar Bears to only 23 percent overall and 14 percent from three over the last 30 minutes. Baudoin and Kierra Jordan did score 21 and 10 points, respectively, on a combined 52 percent rate, but Kamry Orr, who entered the game averaging 12.7 points on 39 percent shooting, only had six points on 8 percent shooting.  With only four made threes all game long, UCA did not do themselves any favors hitting going only 9-for-17 from the free throw line.

The Bulldogs victory was more impressive seeing how they managed to defeat at UCA team that has won 10 of their last 12 games, two of the last three Southland Conference Tournament titles, 25 or more games over the last three years and 41 of their last 46 home games.  The win gives Yale a record setting 19 victories, as well as the first postseason title for the women’s division of the Ivy League. In addition, this was the first title for third-year coach Allison Guth, the IHO Ivy Coach of the Year. Berkowitz, who was selected Tournament MVP, was named along with Simpson as a member of the All-Tournament team.

Berkowitz, Simpson and captain Mary Ann Santucci ended their stellar careers cutting down the nets in front of a small but enthusiastic contingent of Yale family and fans.  While their losses will be huge for the program, the future looks bright for the Bulldogs as they look to challenge the league’s traditional powers. Adding 6’ 5” Camilla Emsbo, the No. 34 rated player at ESPNW’s HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings, to a young nucleus of Barahman, Ellen Margaret Andrews, Tori Andrew, Megan Gorman and Alex Cade should give them even more confidence heading into the 2018-2019 season.