After a loss against Princeton last week, head coach Paul Nixon said the Lions needed to raise their intensity and strengthen their endurance. This weekend's games against Brown and Yale were chances for the Lions to check their progress. Twice they entered the locker room with a deficit, but only once did the Lions find the steam to mount a comeback.
The Light Blue's efforts against Brown came up short. While the Lions scored eight more points in the second half than in the first, the Bears fully demonstrated why they currently are the top team in the Ivy League. They ran up 41 points in the second half and fought off Columbia's attempts to chip away the lead.
The Bear's eight-point halftime lead stretched to 19 in fewer than nine minutes. While the Lions were able to cut the margin to 10 with fewer than eight minutes to play, the Bears pulled away again after that, holding the Lions to four points the rest of the way.
Coming off their disappointing second-half effort at Providence on Friday, the Lions had to bring something different to New Haven. The special ingredient, as usual, was Megan Griffith, but she led the effort for the Lions in a different way. In each of Yale's attempts to pull ahead, Griffith was able to keep the Lions in the game. She could drive into the lane at will and finished with 19 points and seven assists.
"They [Columbia] have an excellent point guard [Griffith]," Yale head coach Chris Gobrecht said. "She's a difference maker for them."
Atypically, Griffith didn't attempt a single three-pointer in the game. Instead, she kept the ball moving by leading her team in steals and inside shots.
Yale's answer to Columbia's aggressiveness would come from their post play. Junior center Erica Davis and sophomore forward Sara McCollum provided a dominant inside presence, with Davis bruising the Light Blue for 17 points, and McCollum giving Yale extra possessions with 13 rebounds.
"She [Erica] is bigger, she's stronger, we tried to get her the ball," Gobrecht said. "We know what we're doing inside."
Not only did the Lions survive against Yale's taller players, they found another gear when they needed it most. With the score tied 54-54, Michele Gage hit her first three of the night. Then Griffith took a foul and a free throw, intercepted a Yale pass, and opened a shot for the game's hero. Shasta Henderson, a player who had struggled with shooting accuracy all night, hit a jumper at the top of the key with four seconds left.
The Bulldogs had been putting two defenders on Griffith all night, but guarding the hot hand finally came back to bite them. In Yale's matchup defense, Henderson was consistently being left open. The game-winning jumper was the end of a series of events that had to happen in order for the Lions to win, and they all did happen.
From beginning to end, the Lions played as though they were oblivious to the score, and this clear-headedness may have been the key to the win. Recalling her thinking while releasing the final jumper, Henderson responded, "I really didn't have any second thoughts. I just let it go and hoped it would go in."