Princeton women's basketball kicked off the 2022–23 season with a bang, coming away with a 67–49 win over Temple on Monday night at Jadwin Gym.
The Tigers entered the season ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll. This season marks the first time the team has been ranked in the preseason poll in its history; in fact, it is the first women’s basketball team in Ivy League history to be ranked in the poll. Now working without last year's breakout star, Abby Meyers (who was busy leading Maryland to victory), Monday night’s win helped to quickly re-establish Princeton as a forerunner in the Ivy League and beyond.
As for the Tigers’ mindset, however, Head Coach Carla Berube told The Daily Princetonian the ranking won’t change much.
“I think it’s great for our program, our team, and the Ivy League and [mid-major teams],” Berube said in a phone interview. “It’s a testament to what we’ve done in the past and what we have for our future and for this season. So yeah, it’s nice to be recognized, but there’s so much work to be done.”
“You know, you want to be ranked at the end of the year,” she added. “That’s the goal.”
The Tigers are well on their way to achieving that goal. Princeton opened Monday’s contest against Temple out-scoring the Owls 20–9 in a first quarter that was reminiscent of the Tigers' previous success. Junior forward Ellie Mitchell opened the game with a quick layup, which she followed with an elbow jumper, putting the Tigers up 4–2. Temple guard Jasha Clinton kept the Owls close by as she cashed in a layup of her own, but the Tigers quickly kicked off a 15–1 run that would take them through the end of the quarter.
Sophomore Paige Morton made her first career start at center, marking a slight shift in the Tigers’ starting line-up as they adjust to life without Meyers. Previously, Mitchell was the Tigers’ tallest starter, standing at 6’1”. Inserting 6’3” Morton into the starting lineup alongside Mitchell made for a much more imposing version of the team, especially as Coach Berube’s center rotation included 6’4” sophomore Parker Hill and 6’2” sophomore Katie Thiers.
Morton shone bright at the position, logging a career-high 13 points on an efficient four-for-six from the field. Her physicality and size in the paint earned her several trips to the free throw line, where she cashed in five-for-seven attempts.
“It’s nice to have a lot of talented players to look to on our team, from starters to our players coming off the bench,” Berube told the ‘Prince’ before the season began. “I think we’ll be a lot deeper, and [I am] looking forward to seeing how they emerge and understand all it means to be a Princeton women'’s basketball player.”
Among the depth on Princeton’s bench was first-year guard Madison St. Rose, the first of three newcomers to the Tigers’ squad to see time on the floor. Princeton’s incoming class was ranked No. 19 in the country and is widely regarded as the best in Ivy women's basketball history. St. Rose kicked off her time with the Tigers with an emphatic block, which she converted into a coast-to-coast layup that put the Jadwin crowd on its feet.
Though she would score just three points (1–6 field goals, 0–4 three-pointers), St. Rose got plenty of looks and spent 18 minutes on the floor, a significant jump from what most previous first-year Tigers have seen. Without Meyers, who accounted for 26 percent of the team’s points per game, Princeton is returning with a gap in its points on the board. St. Rose and fellow first-years Taylor Charles and Tabitha Amanze could be one source the Tigers pull points from.
“Losing [Meyers] is a lot of scoring that we’re going to be missing this year,” said senior guard Julia Cunningham at Ivy Media Day early last month. “But at the same time, we have a really balanced scoring front. So [I’m] kind of taking a little bit of pressure off myself as a scorer. I think it’s really important to focus on that balanced attack … every night we might have a different top scorer.”
The second quarter proved much tougher for the Tigers. Temple’s Clinton had had success pushing the pace in the first quarter, and the Owls went full speed ahead by her example. By the end, Temple would out-score Princeton 14–9 in fast break points, and 5–0 in the second quarter alone as the Tigers struggled to keep up. Turnovers plagued the Princeton offense, while Temple forced Princeton to the perimeter and limited their shot selection. Temple would go on an 8–1 run to close the quarter, cutting the Princeton lead to three as they limited the Tigers to just eight points.
Coming out of halftime, Morton and junior point guard Kaitlyn Chen helped pull the Tigers back up. Chen used her crafty ball-handling to work her way around the Owls’ defense and Morton made her presence known in the paint. Cunningham, who is one of the Tigers’ strongest returning starters, struggled with turnovers through the third quarter, but closed the quarter strong. She found Chen, and then Morton, under the basket to help boost the Tigers’ lead to nine.
Entering the final quarter of action, the Tigers had adjusted to Temple’s pace of play and began to rebuild their double-digit lead. Cunningham’s shots began to fall, and Mitchell found success on the defensive end. Junior guard Chet Nweke made a splash in the final five minutes, as she scored nine points through four consecutive possessions. Senior guard Grace Stone closed out the Tigers’ win with the single Tiger three pointer, off a deep pass from Mitchell.
Mitchell rounded out her first game of the year with an impressive 15 points and 12 rebounds. Chen led the Tigers with 14 points on 6-for-10 from the field, nine rebounds and three assists. Cunningham rounded out the four Tigers in double figures (including Morton) with 13 points on five-for-16 from the field, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks.
The Tigers struggled from beyond the arc throughout the match, shooting just seven percent from three. Luckily, Temple had a similarly difficult time, as they went just one-for-20 from three-point range.
However, the Tigers may not be so lucky going forward. Their upcoming Ivy League schedule includes several teams that are well known for high scoring from three. Also on Monday evening, Harvard landed 11 threes in their win over Rhode Island; Penn’s Kayla Padilla and Columbia’s Abbey Hsu are formidable from three-point range. The Tigers will need to clean up their three-point shooting if they are to keep up with fellow Ivy sharp-shooters.
Despite the three-point woes and a difficult second quarter, the Tigers battled back and fought through the adversity to bring home their first win of the season. Facing opposition in the early going will prepare them for the rest of a tough non-conference schedule, which includes top-ranked opponents in No. 3 Texas and No. 6 Connecticut.
The Tigers return to Jadwin Gym on Friday, Nov. 11 to face Villanova. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m. and the game will include a celebration of service members and veterans.
Isabel Rodrigues is a staff writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers women’s basketball. Please direct any corrections requests to email@example.com.