For the third straight year, Princeton women’s basketball (21–9, 12–2 Ivy) is going to the Ivy tournament championship game. And for the third straight year, Princeton will face Penn (23–5, 12–2).
The Tigers earned their 11th straight win Saturday evening in New Haven, cruising by Cornell (12–14, 6–8) in the Ivy tournament semifinal 68–47 to advance to the finals Sunday afternoon.
“[Cornell head coach] Dayna [Smith] is one of the best coaches in the country, and she gets her team to play well and really hard,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “I give a lot of credit to my guys. It’s not easy to exceed Cornell’s effort, they’re a good team, they’re gritty, and my guys did that.”
From the start, the game belonged to Princeton. The Tigers outscored the Big Red 25–15 in the first quarter and led 37–25 at halftime. Junior forward Bella Alarie, who scored 45 points against Cornell in a February game, was dominant in the first half, scoring 15 points on 7–8 shooting.
“We came in here with a lot of momentum, and I think we just knew that we wanted to come out swinging,” said senior guard Gabrielle Rush. “Everyone came out aggressive, we were locked in on defense, and I think that it proved to be the result that we wanted.”
The last time these two teams played, Cornell nearly overcame a large Princeton lead in the second half, though Princeton ultimately secured a narrow 68–64 win. This time, Princeton extended its lead early in the third quarter, and the game quickly turned into a blowout.
“We did a lot better job with them this game than we did in the last game,” said Rush. “I think we were expecting their pressure, [and] we took care of the ball better.”
With a comfortable lead, Banghart was able to give her starters valuable rest before tomorrow’s championship game.
“I think I average around 30 minutes a game, and this one I played closer to 20,” Alarie said. “I’m definitely going to be able to rest my body and be at full energy and full force for tomorrow.”
Alarie led Princeton in scoring with 21 points on 9–10 shooting in just 24 minutes. Rush recorded 12 points and shot 4–5 from three. Given that she shot a combined 1–15 from behind in the team’s games last weekend, today’s result was a reversion to the mean.
“She said on the way here, ‘it’s the law of averages, right?’” said Banghart. “Only a Princeton kid would say ‘law of averages,’ but hopefully she’s right. She’s a big shot maker.”
As convincing as tonight’s win was, the main act is tomorrow at 4 p.m. Princeton will take on Penn, who crushed Harvard 91–62 in the later semifinal, with the Ivy championship on the line. Princeton and Penn split their games this season — the Quakers won 66–60 in an early January game at Jadwin, and the Tigers won 68–53 at the Palestra in February.
The teams are also even in Ivy tournament championship games. Penn won the inaugural Ivy tournament in 2017, and Princeton got even in 2018. Tomorrow’s matchup can be considered the ultimate Game 3.