No matter what Yale seemed to do on defense, there was a Tiger player with an answer. Whether it was Leslie Robinson down low, Carlie Littlefield from deep, or Bella Alarie from all over the floor, the Bulldogs could do nothing but watch as the Tigers surged into the Ivy League Tournament final.
“Today was the first step,” Alarie noted after the game. “We’re going into the game tomorrow with a lot of momentum and a lot of positive thoughts.”
The Tigers emerged victorious in the first game of the Ivy League Tournament semifinal with a 78–57 victory over the Bulldogs. In front of a crowd that was predominantly Orange and Black faithful, the Tigers put on a show, dominating on both sides of the court and the first team to advance to the Tournament final. Princeton proved once again that its formula of smothering defense and versatile offense is good enough to beat the best of the Ivy League.
In this chapter of Princeton hoops, the scoring came from all different fronts, leaving Yale with little to no answers on how to stop the Tigers. Princeton came at Yale in the paint to begin the game, slicing up the Bulldogs down low and establishing a dominance in the low post that would persist for the entirety of the game. Then, when the Bulldogs began to slow them down inside, Princeton shifted the game to the perimeter, drilling three point shots from all different places beyond the arc. All the while, Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie converted plays with ease and kept the Bulldogs guessing as to where she would go next.
For the Bulldogs, an early sign of trouble was when Roxy Barahman was whistled for her second foul after trying to grab a contested rebound on the offensive end. The versatile guard would have to watch from the sidelines as the Tigers would go go on an 11–1 run to turn a 7–6 lead into an 18–7 lead late in the first quarter.
Credit the Bulldogs however for remaining resilient. After a Leslie Robinson three put the Tigers up 24–16 with 6:12 to go in the quarter, the Bulldogs responded with five quick points and cut the lead to five. However, the Tigers would finish the half on a 13–2 run led by the efforts of senior Tia Weledji and freshman Carlie Littlefield from beyond the arc. The Tigers would take a 39–23 lead into halftime as they held the Bulldogs to only 27 percent shooting.
“Everytime they went on a run, we came together in the huddle and said ‘we can’t let them outplay us,’” said Robinson after the game. “We knew that if we stuck to our defense, we would have success.”
“My mentality today was to be aggressive,” added Alarie. “My goal was to out rebound Yale, and everyone was locked in on the boards.”
Heading into the third quarter, Princeton opened the stanza with more firepower, pushing the lead up to 18 with 7:44 to go. But fourth seeded Bulldogs were not ready to go away quietly, as Barahman and Alex Cade led the way and trimmed the Tiger lead to five. But the three point barrage continued for the Tigers as senior Kenya Holland and Littlefield drained three pointer after three pointer to close out the fourth quarter and open the fourth quarter. With Yale already on the ropes, the three pointer by junior Gabrielle Rush with 6:52 to go put the game on ice for the Tigers. Robinson and Holland received a standing ovation when they checked out a few minutes later, and the Tigers went on cruise control the rest of the way to earn the 78–57 win.
As for the numbers, they were about as well rounded as could be for the Tigers. In terms of points, Littlefield and Alarie each has 17, while Robinson was right behind with 13. Robinson and Alarie each had a double double for the Tigers with 10 rebounds and 11 rebounds respectively. On the flip side, the Bulldogs two biggest board-getters were held to a combined 4 rebounds. Princeton finished the day shooting at a clip of 49 percent, and shot 47 percent beyond the arc. While Barahman and Cade each had over 10 points for the Bulldogs, no other Yale player came close to double-digit scoring.
After the game, head coach Courtney Banghart said, “If they [the Tigers] all bring their piece, they can be great. We’ve been able to count on different guys throughout the game. As the ball moves, our people move we get better possessions. I told them to trust each other — to trust each other and lock in — and they did it.”
The win gives the Tigers a decisive 2–1 season series advantage over the team that arguably gave them the most trouble this year in the Ivy League. Princeton now turns their attention to the biggest game of the year: the Ivy League Tournament final. “There’s only good teams next, so you know you’re going to play a good team,” commented Banghart.
As the two seed last year, the Tigers were defeated by Penn in the final round, ending their quest for an NCAA Tournament automatic bid. This season, the Tigers are the favorites to win it, but they will have to contend with either a tough Harvard team that already beat them once, or a Penn team hungry for their second straight NCAA appearance that will be playing in their home gym.
“Penn is a really dominant inside team, whereas Harvard they’ve got really aggressive dynamic guards that can shoot the ball well,” noted Banghar. “The game plan will be different depending on the team ... but there is so much familiarity here, it’ll be a really fun basketball game to watch.”
Robinson concluded her statement with, “This is what we’ve been working towards for the whole year.” With so much on the line in tomorrow’s game, regardless of the opponent, it should be a thrilling conclusion to the 2018 Ivy League season.