With a national audience watching on ESPN, a conference regular-season title on the line, and the final home game for the team's senior players, the Princeton women’s basketball team was unstoppable.
On Friday night, the Tigers (21–4 overall, 13–0 Ivy League) bested the University of Pennsylvania (12–14, 7–7) to secure the 2021–22 Ivy League regular-season title, clinching the number one seed in the Ivy League Tournament next weekend.
The victory was especially exciting for the Tigers as it happened on senior night. Senior guards Abby Meyers and Neenah Young were honored ahead of the game, as well as student manager Sally Jane Ruybalid. Both Meyers and Young will use their final year of NCAA eligibility to play elsewhere, with Young planning to play for Johns Hopkins while pursuing a graduate degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Meyers’ plans are yet to be decided.
The Quakers arrived at Jadwin Gym on a three-game winning streak but were tied with Harvard for fourth in the Ivy Standings. Because both teams had previously lost to Princeton, racking up a win against the Tigers would give Penn a leg up against the Crimson, potentially punching their ticket to the Ivy Tournament. With a tournament spot on the line for Penn, a regular-season title just one game away for the Tigers, and the Ivy League's two highest scorers, Penn's Kayla Padilla and Princeton’s Meyers, facing off, the matchup was sure to be thrilling to the very end.
Forward Jordan Obi kicked off the game for Penn with a clean drive to the basket, but Meyers responded with a quick jumper off of an assist from sophomore forward Ellie Mitchell, tying the game at two apiece.
The Tigers would trade possessions with the Quakers for the next minute and a half, both teams faltering under each other's tough defense and strong rebounds. Sophomore guard Kaitlyn Chen broke the scoring drought on an impressive coast-to-coast play for a quick layup while Penn’s defense struggled to keep up in transition.
Mitchell's rebounding provided opportunities for key plays for the Tigers. She converted a powerful offensive rebound off a missed three-pointer from Meyers into a nimble assist to junior guard Julia Cunningham for her first two points of the night.
Obi and Padilla drained swift three-pointers, each in back-to-back possessions for Penn, pushing the Quakers ahead 8–6. Then, a missed three-pointer from Chen and a clutch rebound from Obi opened the door for Penn to make the first scoring streak of the game. The Quakers looked to make a quick transition play. However, Princeton’s tough defense and a smart steal from junior guard Grace Stone slowed the momentum, and it was Tigers' ball once again.
After the game, Stone spoke with The Daily Princetonian about the process of creating the signature Princeton defense.
"We're always going to face adversity," she said. "Being in practice day-to-day, we work hard so we can play aggressive defense."
Princeton and Penn would trade single-digit leads for the rest of the first quarter, both teams showing why their defenses top the Ivy League at No. 1 and 3, respectively. Penn's quick switches left the Tigers pushing most possessions to the end of the shot clock and as they struggled to get shots to fall. On the defensive end, four three-pointers for the Quakers forced the Princeton defense to stretch to the perimeter.
The back-and forth play continued well into the second quarter as Penn continued to find holes in Princeton's defense. Two fouls from the Tigers converted into successful free throws for Penn’s Obi and Mia Lakstigala, and the Tigers trailed 20–18 with 7:30 to go in the half. A dangerous layup from Tiger sophomore guard Chet Nweke off of her own offensive rebound was blocked by Penn's Silke Milliman, but Nweke was able to find the ball again. This time, she went up with confidence under the basket to tie the game 20–20.
Lakstigala and Cunningham traded layups up and down the floor, each fighting to pull ahead with a lead, but the game remained tied at 22–22. With 2:32 remaining in the half, Princeton had yet to nail a single three-pointer, marking the longest the team has gone without sinking a three in a conference game this season. Over the entire season so far, only No. 9 Texas has been able to keep the Tigers at bay from three for longer.
Meyers was finally able to end the drought with a deep take from the three-point line off a short look from Nweke, using the momentum to show why she's one of the most dominant scorers in the League. In the next two minutes and thirty seconds, Meyers and the Tigers put on a show for the Jadwin crowd, showing off the classic Princeton offense that has propelled them to perfect conference records for nearly two years straight. A steal off a stumble from Lakstigala turned into an easy bucket for Meyers on the other end of the court forcing a Penn timeout.
Chen expertly dished to Meyers for a short jumper; Nweke got her first steal of the night, pushing the ball to Cunningham who passed to Stone for an open layup with no hesitation. Meyers sealed the quarter with an impressive shot at the buzzer using her own offensive rebound, her feet not even touching the ground between rebound and the nailed shot.
Just as they have for the entire Ivy League season, the Tigers would use this run to mount an even more insurmountable lead, barely letting the Quakers get a word in edgewise. Princeton held Penn to less than 30 points for nearly the entire third quarter, with the largest lead, 46–27 (+19 points), coming on a sharp three-pointer from junior guard Maggie Connolly. Penn was able to battle back with quick baskets and automatic free-throws from Padilla and a tough layup through a Princeton wall from Sydnei Caldwell, but a jaw-dropping mid-air pass from Chen to Stone for three ended the third quarter with a bang for the Tigers.
Stone opened the fourth quarter with her second consecutive three-pointer. At 55–36, the Tigers were headed towards yet another blowout victory. Missed shots from Lakstigala and Padilla and struggles on the defensive end took Penn to another timeout to regroup. The Quakers returned with force, as Obi stormed to the basket for a tough and-one basket off a foul on Mitchell. With 15 points and 11 rebounds, Obi quietly registered her seventh double-double this season, though her effort was not unnoticed by the Princeton defense. Mitchell was quick to bounce back, however, as she found Meyers for three on the next possession. With that three-point shot, Meyers hit 20 points for the 10th time this season, and the Tigers took a 21 point lead, 60–39.
With 6:07 left in the quarter, the Tigers stabilized a gargantuan advantage over Penn, now 65–39 with the help of two free-throws and a first three-pointer of the night from Cunningham. To make matters worse for the Quakers, sophomore guard-forward Maddie Plank entered the game and immediately found an open jumper, expanding the lead to 67–39. Penn struggled to find their footing as the door began to close on their chances at a spot in the Ivy tournament with missed jumpers and turnovers plaguing the Quakers' late-game offense. Both teams found their final points at the free-throw line as the game came to a close, the final score sitting at 69–43.
The healthy lead Princeton had built allowed Jadwin Gym to glimpse what the future of Princeton women's basketball will look like as the Tiger bench came out onto the hardwood. First-year forward Parker Hill and first-year guards Adaora Nwokeji and Amelia Osgood made the most of the remaining 1:38, moving the ball quickly on offense, and making strides on defense. The Tigers appear to be in good hands for the coming seasons, guided by Coach Carla Berube.
Holding Penn to just 43 points, Princeton secured its 13th straight win in the Ivy league and the regular-season Ivy title. For the Class of 2022, their overall Ivy Record improves to a jaw-dropping 51–4. The energy in Jadwin Gym was electric, as confetti rained down on the team and spectators young and old cheered for the victorious Princeton squad.
"This is the basketball time of year I love. It's really exciting coming out and dominating play," Stone said. "I think we're all ready to get to the rest of the Ivy Tournament."
Coach Berube is closing her second season with the Tigers, but, because of the shortened 2019–2020 season, is headed to her first Ivy Tournament. Her confident approach to securing victory, however, stays the same.
"There might be some nerves," Berube said, "but we'll just play our game."
With 446 total points so far this season, Meyers is well on her way to securing a spot on Princeton's all-time leaderboard for most points in a season. She has also tied Bella Alarie ’20 for the most consecutive 10+ point performances at 26 games with 10 or more. Meanwhile, Mitchell's three offensive rebounds catapulted her to 13th in the NCAA for offensive rebounds per game, an impressive feat for the sophomore who is the only Ivy League player in the top 15. Princeton excellence goes beyond individual records, however. In the past two seasons, no Ivy League team has come within single digits of a Princeton victory, and the Tigers added to their historic conference win streak, now a mind-melting 38 games long.
The Tigers will wrap up their so far perfect regular season on Sunday, when they face off against Harvard in Cambridge at noon. Princeton will play in next weekend's Ivy League Women's Tournament as the number one seed. They will participate in the semifinal game broadcast Friday, March 11 on ESPN at 4:30 p.m. and, should they advance, the final broadcast Saturday, March 12 on ESPN at 5 p.m.