Undaunted by a raucous hometown crowd for their opponents, the Yale Bulldogs (19-13) downed the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears (25-10)Thursday night, 54-50, to win the 2018 Women’s Basketball Invitational at UCA’s Farris Center.
"I could not be more proud, to go into an arena and a setting where you're playing a phenomenal team who protects home court the way they do and to have your kids battle, fight," Yale head coach Allison Guth said. "For those three seniors to end on a win and do something this program has never done, it's phenomenal."
With the win, Yale becomes the lone women’s team in Ivy League history to claim a postseason tournament title. The Bulldogs are also the first team to win the WBI title as a visiting squad.
The last leg of Yale’s road towards the WBI title began after a 9 a.m. practice on their home court in New Haven, Conn. on Wednesday. The Bulldogs finished practice and headed to the airport for a long trip to Conway, Arkansas. The team didn’t reach their hotel until 8 p.m. that evening, giving them less than 24 hours to get ready for the final game of the tournament.
The defensive-minded Sugar Bears entered the contest with the nation's No. 2 scoring defense at 50.8 points per game. UCA earned a 4-0 lead to start the game and maintained it for the remainder of the quarter. The Sugar Bears headed into the second period with an 18-11 advantage.
However, Yale was undaunted by the deficit and retaliated in the second period with a balanced effort. Five different players scored for the Bulldogs in the second period. Yale outscored UCA 13-9 in the ten minutes before the break. The Sugar Bears went into halftime with a slim 27-24 lead.
UCA senior forward Taylor Baudoin led all scorers at the half with 11 points. Senior forward Jen Berkowitz had eight points for Yale.
The Bulldogs continued their run into the second quarter, outperforming the Sugar Bears 17-12. This gave Yale a 41-39 lead going into the fourth period.
UCA was on a mission in the fourth quarter as their offensive efforts led to a tie game at 9:44 after free throws from junior guard Kamry Orr. Yale came right back to gain the lead again and the contest was a back and forth effort until Berkowitz made a layup for the Bulldogs with 29 seconds left to give her team a 52-50 advantage. She also made two free throws with five seconds left to seal the deal.
Berkowitz finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. She was named the MVP of the tournament. Senior guard Tamara Simpson also had 12 points along with a team-leading eight rebounds. Sophomore guard Roxy Barahman, who had some crucial points down the stretch in the fourth quarter, contributed 10 points plus six rebounds.
UCA's Baudoin led all scorers with 21 points plus six rebounds. Senior center Kierra Jordan chipped in 10 points plus seven rebounds, slightly below her season average of 11.2 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per contest.
Yale ends the season with a program-record 19 wins.
"There's nothing more rewarding as a coach than seeing your players celebrate an accomplishment that we set out to do back in the summertime when they were prepping to play," Guth said. "To end the season on a win like that … to see them celebrating and to see your staff who had put in endless hours with those smiles on their faces and that type of feeling and emotion, it's the high you only get through sport and through victory with the gumption that this team has showed."
All Tournament Team
Tamara Simpson – Yale
Taylor Baudoin – Central Arkansas
Chyna Ellis – South Alabama
T Moe – Nevada
Candice White – Fresno State
MVP: Jen Berkowitz – Yale
- No other Ivy League women’s basketball team had won a postseason championship before Yale’s WBI title victory.
- By holding Yale to 54 points, the Sugar Bears finish the season with a Southland Conference record for lowest scoring average allowed, giving up just 50.9 points per game finishing second in the nation this season.
- The Sugar Bears also finish with 25 wins for the third consecutive season, just one of 17 (out of 349) Division I programs to do so over the last three seasons, and have averaged 26.3 wins during that time and 21.3 over the last nine years.