Women’s basketball is going dancing.
After surviving a tough battle against Harvard (13–14, 7–7 Ivy League) in the Ivy Madness semifinals Friday night, the No. 24 Tigers (24–4, 14–0) controlled their Saturday night game down the stretch in an impressive 77–59 win over the Columbia Lions (22–6, 12–2). The win ensured the Tigers would claim both the Ivy regular season and Ivy tournament titles, as well as guaranteeing a spot for the team in the NCAA Tournament.
Leading the way for the Tigers was sophomore guard Kaitlyn Chen, who scored a career-high 30 points while shooting a scalding 69 percent from the field. Her point total was the most scored by any Tiger this season, a performance that earned her Ivy Madness Tournament MVP honors.
“I just told Kaitlyn before we played Harvard, this is your platform, this is your spotlight,” senior guard Abby Meyers told the media following the win. “I’m just so glad that we got Kaitlyn Chen because she’s an absolute baller. She’s a rookie, but she plays like a veteran.”
“It definitely helps knowing my teammates have my back,” Chen added.
Meyers and junior guard Julia Cunningham each added 16 points, while junior guard Grace Stone contributed 12. It was Meyers’ 29th-straight game scoring in double digits, and the 24th time Cunningham has done so this season.
Despite Columbia’s second place seating in the Ivy League this season, Princeton hasn’t had much trouble dismantling the Lions in the teams’ three matchups this year, winning by an average of 18.7 points.
In the two teams’ first matchup in Jadwin Gymnasium, Princeton won 57–39. The Tigers followed up that win with a dominant 73–53 victory in New York three weeks later. Chen had set her previous career high of 27 in the Tigers’ last game against Columbia. In addition to Chen, Stone also set a career-high in points in the second matchup with 19. The Tigers did not trail by more than two points across the two matchups.
Of course, there was reason to believe that this game might be closer. Columbia had rolled to a 65–38 win in the semifinal, showing their skill and giving the team time to rest key players. Princeton, meanwhile, had a very tiring, competitive showdown in their semifinal.
In their semifinal win over Yale (16–11, 9–5), Columbia’s stifling defense held the Bulldogs to just 25 percent shooting from the field. The offense clicked as well, with guard and Duke transfer Jaida Patrick putting up 23 points on astonishing 85 percent shooting; fellow guard Abbey Hsu dropped 18 points, with four three-pointers. Entering Saturday’s contest, Hsu was third in three-pointers per game in Division I with 3.5 triples per contest. She was also averaging a team-best 16.4 points per game.
When I was watching their game last night, I was like, this is gonna be tough,” said Princeton Head Coach Carla Berube. “They always are. They are really hard to guard [with] so many great skilled players, they play well together, and they’re tough.”
However, Princeton also had reason to be confident, aside from the decisive wins this season. The team entered with the third-best scoring defense in Division I, meaning they could shut down opponents’ offenses at will. The Tigers also brought in a 41-game conference winning streak, the longest in both men’s and women’s Division I basketball, and had won 26 straight games against Columbia, a streak that dates all the way back to 2008.
The Tigers recorded great performances in the semifinal win over Harvard from senior guard and Ivy League Player of the Year Abby Meyers, who scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds, as well as sophomore forward Ellie Mitchell, who picked up 11 points and 16 boards. Meyers entered the game averaging 17.9 points per game and shooting an Ivy-best 40.9 percent from deep, while Mitchell entered the game leading the conference in rebounding with just over 10 per contest.
The two teams were neck-and-neck through the entirety of the first quarter. Lions guard Kaitlyn Davis scored the first bucket of the game for Columbia with a smooth drive and finish in the paint. Cunningham then went to work for the Tigers. She hit a three-pointer from the left wing to score Princeton’s first points, and came down the next possession with a pull-up jumper from the right elbow, extending the lead to 5–2 early on.
Hsu then helped her squad regain the lead with back-to-back dribble pull-ups from the top of the key. By the end of the first frame, the teams were all tied up at 16–16. Already, there had been four lead changes between the two teams. Davis and Hsu led the way for the Lions with six points each. Cunningham led all scorers with seven.
Things started to fall apart for Columbia during the second quarter. For the next ten minutes, it became a game of runs for Princeton. Grace Stone came out hot into the second quarter, as she scored three baskets in a row to start the period. Then, it was sophomore guard Kaitlyn Chen’s turn to put on a show. She went on a solo 9–2 run, extending the Princeton lead to 30–23 with five minutes until the half. The Tigers would outscore the Lions 21–9 in the second frame, preventing Columbia from scoring a field goal for the final eight minutes of the quarter.
The high stakes of the championship game was especially evident around the three-minute mark of the second quarter. Princeton junior guard Maggie Connolly got tied up with Columbia forward Noa Comensaña while fighting for a jump ball. The referees had to separate the two players, demonstrating how badly each team wanted to claim the trophy.
Although she started a bit slow, senior guard Abby Meyers still made timely plays. She stepped up big with a three-pointer nearing the end of the second quarter, ultimately giving Princeton a 37–25 lead going into halftime. Chen led all scorers at the half with 13, and Stone added another nine. For Columbia, Hsu had a team-high eight points. She would finish the game with 16, and was named to the all-tournament team.
Things were looking good for the Tigers at halftime, as they were a perfect 21–0 this season when entering the break with the lead. However, heading into the second half, Columbia seemed to have made some positive adjustments. They managed to cut the lead down to 39–32 in two minutes of action.
However, Abby Meyers is a big-time player, and big-time players make big-time plays. She calmly sank a stepback three-pointer to push Princeton’s lead back to double digits, 42–32. Their lead would not shrink below 10 until the start of the fourth quarter.
Columbia Head Coach Megan Griffith, Princeton’s former recruiting coordinator, said she’s always known what a special talent Meyers is on the court.
“I recruited Abby Meyers before I got this job. We would grade people, and one of the ratings was ‘too good for us,’” she shared at the postgame press conference. “One of the other assistants said that Abby was exactly that. I just said, ‘Well, go get that kid.’”
In the final frame, Columbia guard Kitty Henderson bodied the smaller Chen in the paint, shooting right over her to cut the deficit to 59–51 with seven minutes remaining. Just as she had done all game, Chen came right back at the Lions with an answer. Her quickness off the dribble made way for a crafty layup inside, extending the Tigers lead to 61–51.
“Her layup package is so deep,” Meyers said of Chen.
“Kaitlyn is a really, really nice player,” Griffith said after the game. “She’s very dynamic, and she loves the game. You can tell from the way she plays.”
Their lead would grow as Columbia had no choice but to begin intentionally fouling, sending Princeton’s accurate free throw shooters to the line to put the game away for good. At the final buzzer, the team rushed the floor as confetti covered the court. It was the Tigers’ third consecutive Ivy Madness title, and the 15th Ivy League title in program history.
“For me, it’s like the [pot of gold] at the end of the rainbow,” Meyers said.
The title was more than two years’ worth of dedication in the making. Last season, COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the Ivy League Basketball Tournament. Many other conferences did not make a similar decision, meaning the team was forced to sit at home and watch as other top teams from around the country lifted the trophy.
“It was sort of tough watching everyone play last year while we were just in Jadwin [Gym],” Chen said.
“[Abby Meyers and Kaitlyn Chen] were with me, and just a couple others, during the NCAA tournament last year, and they were working really, really hard,” added Head Coach Carla Berube. “Abby learned how to be an incredible leader, and they worked so well together. They just developed a really awesome chemistry on and off the floor.”
This victory gave Princeton its 42nd win in a row over all other Ivy League competitors. It was also Coach Berube’s 50th win as head coach. The team has only lost five times during her time at Princeton.
Looking onwards to March Madness, all eyes are on Selection Sunday. On Sunday, March 13, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket will be released. The first and second round will take place on March 18–21. It will be Princeton’s first appearance since 2019, when they lost to No. 18 Kentucky in the first round, 82–77. The Tigers are just 1–8 all-time in the tournament.
Meyers, who joined Chen on the all-tournament team, said that she is not wasting time guessing which seed they’ll receive or which bracket they’ll be placed in.
“I think that’s something out of our control. We’re just going to be focused on whoever we’re going to play, wherever we’re going to play.”
Coach Berube expressed a similar sentiment.
“Where the chips fall, we're going to be there and we'll be prepared,” Berube said. “You know, like I’ve said before, we’ve just got the best staff in the world, and they'll get our players ready. We’re just just excited to be dancing.
“It's been such a great journey,” she added. “I just don't want it to end.”
Matt Drapkin is a staff writer for the ‘Prince’ sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @mattdrapkin.
Wilson Conn is a co-head editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers football, basketball, and breaking news. He is also a senior writer for the Podcast section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @wilson_conn.