Leading No. 6 Kentucky (25–7, 11–5 SEC) by four points at halftime in the first round of the NCAA tournament, No. 11 Princeton women’s basketball (22–10, 12–2 Ivy) was 20 minutes away from pulling off an upset. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Kentucky had other ideas. The Wildcats outscored Princeton by nine points in the second half, ending Princeton’s season with a 82–77 win.
For the second straight season, Princeton played its first round NCAA tournament game in Raleigh, N.C. Last year, the team lost by 20 to No. 5 Maryland. This year, Princeton opened its tournament at 11 a.m. against a Kentucky team which finished fourth in the SEC.
Kentucky is known for its stifling defense led by senior guard Taylor Murray, a semifinalist for the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Wildcats’ defensive pressure caused problems early in the game for Princeton, who committed several early turnovers.
Nonetheless, Princeton led 20–16 after the first quarter. The Tigers extended to their lead to nine points in the second quarter after senior guard Gabrielle Rush hit a three-pointer to make the score 27–18 and force Kentucky to burn a timeout to curb Princeton’s momentum. Kentucky battled back later in the quarter, and Princeton achieved a 37–33 lead by halftime.
The game remained roughly even for most of the third quarter, but Kentucky justified its higher seed in the final minutes of the quarter. Kentucky took advantage of a series of Princeton turnovers and missed jumpers, finishing the quarter on a 13–2 run to turn Princeton’s 50–48 lead into a 61–52 deficit.
Princeton continued to fight in the fourth quarter, cutting Kentucky’s lead to five on several occasions. The Tigers couldn’t get any closer than that, as Kentucky made free throws and avoided mistakes to secure a five-point win and ticket to the Round of 32.
Junior forward Bella Alarie, the Ivy League Player of the Year, recorded an impressive stat line, with 20 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. However, she shot just 8–24 from the field, struggling particularly to hit outside shots.
Princeton’s senior captains, Rush and senior forward Sydney Jordan, also provided valuable contributions. Rush led Princeton in scoring with 22 points and shot 6–11 from three. Jordan added 17 points and five rebounds and was instrumental to Princeton’s fast start with 11 first half points. Sophomore guard Carlie Littlefield played the entire game and scored 10 points to give the Tigers four double-digit scorers.
Taylor and guard Maci Morris had 19 points apiece for Kentucky, and first-year standout Rhyne Howard added another 15. With the win, Kentucky advanced to play No. 3 NC State on Monday.
Princeton qualified for the NCAA tournament after beating Penn last weekend to win the Ivy League tournament. It was the Tigers’ second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament and eighth in the last 10 years.