For the second consecutive weekend, the women's basketball team split its two weekend games. This time, however, there were no wild celebrations, no game-winning steals and no multi-year winning streaks that came to an end.
Although Princeton (12-9 overall, 6-3 Ivy League) was able to salvage a 60-42 victory over Yale in New Haven, Conn., Saturday, a Friday defeat at Brown could prove devastating to the Tigers' hopes of winning the regular-season conference title. With the 71-56 loss to the Bears, Princeton fell into a three-way tie with Dartmouth and Penn for second place in the league. In order to gain even a share of the league title, the Tigers must beat Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 20, and hope that the Crimson also lose another Ivy contest. Both scenarios would require major upsets.
In its matchup with Brown (9-13, 5-5), Princeton lacked the intensity that had been so crucial in the emotional victory over Harvard the previous weekend. After falling behind early, the Tigers struggled throughout, turning the ball over a season-high 32 times.
Although Princeton got a career-high 19 points from junior forward Julie Angell, the Bears outscored the Tigers, 20-5, over the final six minutes, 28 seconds in posting a surprisingly easy victory.
The 71 points scored by Brown were the second most allowed by Princeton all season, but the game against the Bears also represents the second time in a week that a team scored more than 70 against the Tigers.
Princeton, which had been allowing just 49.2 points per game coming into the weekend, bounced back Saturday, allowing just 42 points (the second fewest scored on the Tigers this season) against Yale. The damage, however, had already been done.
"They came out really strong. We didn't," sophomore forward Kate Thirolf said of Brown. "We just never really got back on our feet. We didn't come focused, ready to win."
In Saturday's victory over Yale (11-11, 5-5), Princeton was the team that had clearly arrived ready to play. After racing to a 31-16 halftime lead, the Tigers kept their lead in double-digits throughout the second half behind the outstanding shooting of senior forward Lynn Makalusky.
Over the course of approximately eight minutes, Makalusky scored 11 points and made a trio of three-point shots to spark a 15-5 run, increasing the Princeton lead from 33-22 to an insurmountable 48-27. From that point forward, the Tigers needed only to take care of the basketball, which they did, committing just 13 turnovers.
Sophomore guard Maggie Langlas led the Tigers with 22 points, while contributing four steals and four rebounds in the victory over the Elis. Thirolf, who returned to the starting lineup against Yale after coming off the bench in the previous eight games, added 11 points, while Makalusky finished with 13.
In the end, however, this weekend will probably be looked upon with frustration, as Princeton may have squandered its slim chance of catching first-place Harvard. After one of their most thrilling victories in years – a win over the Crimson in front of the largest crowd ever to witness a women's basketball game at Jadwin Gym – the Tigers suffered a letdown against Brown and paid a heavy price for their lack of emotional fire.
"The mood was very different before the Brown game," Angell said. "I can't really explain it. We never really got scared during the game."
Against Harvard, one of Princeton's most arduous tasks was convincing itself that it could defeat the seemingly invincible two-time defending Ivy champions.
When facing teams such as Brown, however, the Tigers will have to believe the opposite – that even the league's mediocre teams can beat them on a given day.
"We know now what it takes to win," Thirolf said.
Whether this knowledge will translate into more victories remains to be seen.