The women’s basketball team took care of business this weekend, protecting Jadwin Gymnasium from conference foes looking to steal a win and move closer to first place in the Ivy League. Following back-to-back wins over Harvard and Dartmouth, the Tigers now find themselves tied for first place with Penn, hoping to sweep the season series when the Quakers visit on Tuesday.
The Tigers came into the weekend knowing that it would set the tone for the second half of the season. This weekend featured the two Ivy teams the Tigers had yet to play this season. And after last week’s trip up the east coast — one that handed the Tigers their first league loss of the year — the team knew it was critical to protect the home court and set themselves up for a strong finish.
“It’s a big three games coming up for us,” Head Coach Courtney Banghart said on Wednesday regarding the Harvard, Dartmouth and Penn games. “It is very helpful that all of those games are home,” she added. “It’s where you practice everyday, and it’s where you establish your routine . . . We draw the most [home fans] in the league and we know there will be a lot of people there.”
Facing the league’s third- and fourth-ranked teams back-to-back was sure to be no easy task, but the Tigers followed their conventional winning formula of a suffocating defense and an efficient offense to earn two convincing wins. Princeton outscored Harvard and Dartmouth a combined 162–110 in the triumphant weekend and showed that they had put the Yale upset of the weekend before far behind them.
The weekend started off on a high note when Princeton came out against the Crimson and put up 9 of the first 11 points of the game. With Harvard already rattled, the Tigers knocked them out for good in the second quarter when they went on a 14–0 run in just 4 minutes, putting the Orange and Black up 25–7. From there, Princeton, the number-one defense in the league, averaging only 55.2 points allowed per game, was able to do its thing, never letting the visitors come closer than 10 points away. The Crimson finished the game shooting only 27.9 percent — their second lowest total of the season. In the first and third quarters combined, Harvard made only 5 baskets on 34 attempts.
After the game, freshman guard Carlie Littlefield — named the Player of the Game after scoring a career high 18 points and shooting 67 percent from deep — discussed the defensive performance. “We knew [Harvard] was one of the best offensive teams in the league this season... all week, we knew we wanted to lock into what they did offensively. We did a great job executing that and obviously the score reflected that,” she said.
Littlefield nearly matched her career best in the next day’s game against Dartmouth. This time, the freshman from Waukee, Iowa added 17 points on 6 for 10 shooting. Littlefield’s fellow freshman guard Abby Meyers would be the one to reach a new season best after she posted 19 points on 70 percent shooting.
However, unlike their last game, the Tigers were unable to close the game out in the second half; instead, they had to wait until they opened the third quarter on a 9–2 run to put the game out of reach. The Big Green posted some of the best numbers against the Princeton defense this season, riding their league leading 3-point scoring offense (averaging 36.1 percent per game) to a nice 46 percent clip from beyond the arc. Still, the Orange and Black made sure to contest every pass, forcing 19 turnovers en route to the double digit victory. Sophomore forward Bella Alarie also had a career day when she posted her ninth double-double, matching her total from last year. With half of the conference season still left to play, there is a good chance she breaks that personal record.
With the win, the Tigers jumped to 6–1 in conference play and 16–4 overall. Currently, the NCAA Women’s Basketball RPI has them ranked at 34 — the highest of any Ivy League team. In the national polls, the Tigers have yet to receive any love but may begin to turn some heads if they continue to play at the level they currently are.
National accolades aside, the Tigers can now look ahead to their biggest conference game of the season thus far. The matchup against Penn on Tuesday night will feature the top teams in the conference, both sitting at 6–1 in league play. The game will also feature the number-one defense of Princeton matching up against the number-two defense of Penn. This will also be the final matchup between the two teams in the regular season. The Tigers defeated the Quakers 70–55 in the Palestra to open Ivy League play.
Alluding to the Princeton-Penn matchup earlier this week, Banghart commented, “We’ve consistently been the best in the league over the past seven or eight years. We know what they knew, and we know what type of battle it’s going to be. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Princeton has won the first two of their most important three games this season, but it’s the third game that matters the most in terms of regular season titles and tournament seeding. Let’s see if the Tigers can come out and play as strongly as they did against the Crimson and Big Green.