Princeton made a resounding statement to the rest of the Ivy League this afternoon, putting everyone on notice that maybe Princeton — not Penn — is the team to beat this season.
The Tigers (11–3) defeated the Quakers by a score of 70–55. With the win, the Tigers earned their sixth victory in a row and won against UPenn for the first time in their last six attempts. In this rematch between the teams that finished first and second, UPenn and Princeton respectively, the Tigers rewrote the narrative that everyone was expecting; defeating the Quakers at the Palestra will be considered a big upset by many people in the coming days, who predicted UPenn as the runaway Ivy League favorite.
But Princeton’s victory this afternoon was by no means a questionable win. The Tigers led for more than 34 minutes of the 40-minute game; by contrast, the Quakers led for just 3:23. Against a Quaker defense that has allowed opponents to shoot only 39 percent this season, the Tigers shot an impressive 47 percent. The Tiger defense held Michelle Nwokedi — the Penn forward who was recently named the 2017 Ivy League player of the year —to nine points on only 4–15 shooting for the afternoon. Princeton sent back eight of Penn’s shots this afternoon, compared to only one blocked shot by the Quakers. In almost all phases of the game, the Tigers — not the Quakers — looked like the Ivy League frontrunner for 2018.
Sophomore Bella Alarie, who had decent performances in last year’s matchups against Penn, once again gave an all-star performance that we’ve come to take for granted this season. She tallied a game high of 18 points and 12 rebounds, shooting seven for 11 this afternoon and adding another double-double to give her seven for the season. For most of the game, she looked like the best player on the court. Whenever Penn seemed poised to mount a comeback, Alarie shut them down and re-established Princeton’s firm control on the game.
Playing her final regular season game at the Palestra, senior Leslie Robinson made sure to leave Philly with good memories. Robinson gave the Tigers 15 points on six for 11 shooting and added five assists and four rebounds to the team’s efforts. Two of her assists came in the final quarter as the Tigers were putting the game out of reach. Also a key contributor for the Tigers this afternoon was Gabrielle Rush; the junior guard lit Penn up from beyond the arc, making five of her seven three-pointers and giving the Tigers 17 points. She was a big reason why the Tigers dominated the Quakers in points off the bench, where Princeton finished with a 24–9 advantage.
Certainty, there is still a long way to go before anything is decided for any team. But the immediate landscape of the Ivy League this season has just been drastically changed. Princeton — now the winner of five straight and holding an 11–3 record, convincingly handled Penn — now 6–5 — on their its court. In doing so, the Tigers just became the team to beat in the Ivy League heading into the heart of conference play. The balance of power has shifted to the Tigers. Now let’s see what they do with it in the coming weeks.