This weekend, women’s basketball will travel to Philadelphia to play in the second annual Ivy League Conference Tournament. With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the Tigers will begin the weekend at 6 p.m Saturday against Yale (15–12 overall, 8–6 Ivy) and will advance to the championship game 4 p.m. Sunday with a win. Here are some of the key story lines heading into the most important weekend of the season.
By several metrics, Princeton has already had a wildly successful season. They won the regular season Ivy League title outright with a 12–2 conference record. Sophomore forward Bella Alarie was named the Ivy League Player of the Year. Head coach Courtney Banghart was honored as the Ivy League Coach of the Year for the second time. None of these accolades, however, could substitute for an Ivy League tournament victory and an NCAA tournament bid. The team will be seeking to avenge last year’s championship game defeat against Penn (20–7, 11–3), in which Princeton started slowly and struggled offensively en route to a 57–48 defeat. “I don’t think we played anywhere near the way that we know how to play,” then-junior Leslie Robinson said after that game. With Penn lurking in No. 2 seed of the tournament, the Tigers could have their chance to right that wrong.
Players to watch
For Princeton, Alarie has been the main attraction all season; she leads the team in points and rebounds per game with 13.4 and 9.0 respectively. Princeton has also benefited from the precocious play of first-year guards Abby Meyers and Carlie Littlefield, who have averaged 9.0 and 8.4 points per game respectively, and Robinson’s leadership, who leads the team in assists per game with 4.4 and recorded the program’s first ever triple-double last week against Brown (15–12, 3–11). The Tigers will need each of them to perform in the largest stage of the season this weekend.
Scouting the opposition
Princeton’s first matchup of the tournament, Yale, gave the Tigers problems in each of their two matchups this season. On Feb. 2, Yale defeated Princeton 73–59, handing the Tigers one of their only two conference losses of the season. In the final game of the season, Yale led Princeton through one quarter, before the Tigers battled back to grind out a 64–53 win. The Bulldogs are led on both ends of the court by senior guard Tamara Simpson, who was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and averages 14.5 points per game. If the Tigers are victorious on Saturday, they will play either No. 2 seed Penn or No. 3 seed Harvard (18–9, 10–4) in Sunday’s championship game. Penn is led by Michelle Nwokedi, who played a crucial role in Penn’s win over Princeton in last year’s championship game, and Harvard is led by the sharp-shooting Ivy League First Team guard Katie Benzan.
Princeton would undoubtedly like to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament by winning the Ivy League tournament this weekend. If they fall short, however, an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney is still within the realm of possibility. Princeton currently boasts the 30th best RPI in the country and is in the NCAA tournament by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme, typically the lowest seed given to at-large teams.
“I think we stand pretty strong for an at-large,” said Banghart regarding that possibility. “But we just have to take care of business.”