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Women's basketball posts double-digit wins over Delaware and Rutgers as non-conference season winds down

"It showed the fight we have," senior guard Julia Cunningham said of the team's win over Rutgers

<h5>Senior Guard Julia Cunningham was named Ivy League Player of the Week for her part in the win over Rutgers.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Princeton Athletics.</h6>
Senior Guard Julia Cunningham was named Ivy League Player of the Week for her part in the win over Rutgers.
Courtesy of Princeton Athletics.

As campus quieted down amid reading period, women's basketball was working double-time.

On Dec. 11, the Tigers took down Delaware at home, beating the Blue Hens 62–47. Then, on Dec. 15, they snagged the program's first-ever road win against in-state rival Rutgers. Senior guard Grace Stone went a perfect 4-for-4 from three in the second half to help Princeton overcome a 15-point deficit and beat the Scarlet Knights, 77–56.

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After a standout performance against Rutgers, senior guard Julia Cunningham earned Ivy League Player of the Week honors. She posted 24 points, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range, and four rebounds to lead the Tigers in the win. Cunningham, who also captains the team, said she hopes the team will use these tough comeback games to fuel them through the Ivy League season ahead.

"I think this game was a big step for us," Cunningham told The Daily Princetonian in a phone interview. "It kind of showed the fight that we have … even if we're down 15 in the third quarter, we're not a team that's just gonna roll over and take a loss."

Even with back-to-back double-digit wins, the Tigers still have plenty of room to grow. Of the 10 games they've played so far, the Tigers have only had four where they post 12 or more points in each quarter. Further, they've shot worse than 40 percent from the field in just over half of the quarters they've played. Per Her Hoop Stats, Princeton have played just three games where they've shot over 38 percent from two-point range.

"We've had games where we played a really great first half and then we've had games where we played a really great second half," Cunningham explained. "We're trying to kind of pull that all together where we're playing 40 minutes of our best basketball."

Part of that comes down to the difficult non-conference schedule the Tigers have faced this season. Per the NCAA's NET rankings, the Tigers have played the 22nd-strongest non-conference schedule in the country and by far the hardest in the Ivy League (next-highest-ranked Columbia comes in at 78th). Still, they've posted a respectable 7–3 record and the second-best scoring defense in the Ivy League.

"I want us to be moving the ball better than we have been,” Head Coach Carla Berube told media after the win over Delaware. “I like the way they work every day … and have fun playing together. We need to just keep building on that."

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Dela-Where? Tigers own the paint, grab 31 points off turnovers to put away the Blue Hens

The Tigers returned to Jadwin Gym on Dec. 11 to take on the Delaware Blue Hens (5–4 overall, 0–0 CAA). Finally back in front of a home court after three-and-a-half weeks of road games, the Tigers quickly found a scoring rhythm in the paint. 

Even as the Blue Hens stayed close behind, junior forward Ellie Mitchell's quick and persistent rebounding helped grab plenty of second-chance points for the Tigers. On the day, Princeton would score 19 points off of offensive rebounds to Delaware's four.

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The Tigers shot under 40 percent from the field on the day, but were able to limit Delaware to an even worse percentage. Though they struggled to slow Delaware guard Kharis Idom from the three-point line, the Tigers logged 13 steals and scored 22 points off of 19 Delaware turnovers.

An 8–0 run to cap off the third quarter, powered by efficient scoring from senior forward Chet Nweke and junior guard Kaitlyn Chen, pushed the Tigers into a double-digit lead, 46–32. Senior guard Grace Stone punched a dagger three-pointer to push the Princeton lead to 18, at 52–34; soon after, the teams' benches rolled in to finish out the game. First-year guard Taylor Charles was quick to take advantage of the opportunity, logging her first minutes as a Tiger and sinking a quick three pointer with just 28 seconds left to play.

Chen led all scorers with 14 points and two rebounds, while Mitchell posted a near double-double of 10 points and nine rebounds, along with five assists. Berube says the opportunistic scoring Mitchell found in the paint is a result of the work she puts in between seasons and at every practice.

"Sometimes it's in the box score and sometimes it's just Ellie being scrappy and making us better," Berube said. "We have all the confidence in her to hit some shots. To get eight to 12 points from Ellie is a really good night."

Own the Garden State: Princeton posts 55 second half points to earn first program road win over Rutgers

On Dec. 15, better known on campus by its more formal name, "Dean's Date Eve," the Tigers journeyed north to Jersey Mike's arena, home of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (5–8 overall, 0–2 Big Ten). 

The Tigers have a long and sour history with the Scarlet Knights, stretching all the way back to 1973. While all five of their wins over Rutgers had come at home, they had 12 straight loses in New Brunswick. The two teams haven't played since 2017, when Princeton dropped a devastating 70–50 loss to Rutgers.

Needless to say, it's an in-state rivalry that deserves re-kindling, and the Tigers started off this matchup with a bang, thanks to a 7–2 run and five straight points from first-year guard Madison St. Rose. But, as a 10–4 Rutgers run tied up the score by the end of the first quarter and the Tigers' shooting woes re-surfaced in the second quarter, the Tigers quickly found themselves facing a 15-point deficit with just a quarter and a half left to play (39–24).

But, it was nothing a 17–0 run couldn't fix. Picking up speed, Princeton forced the Scarlet Knights to play at their pace. Chen grabbed a layup of her own (39–26) and then picked up a quick rebound off of a Rutgers miss. Breaking through a crowd of white Rutgers jerseys, Chen found St. Rose sprinting ahead of her: a perfect opportunity. Chen slung the outlet pass, and St. Rose posted the easy layup (39–28) as the Princeton bench roared in approval.

"We have a pretty young team," Cunningham told the 'Prince.' "I think there's definitely a learning curve that comes with it … I think this game was a big step for us because we got contributions from a lot of people."

That was all before the Tigers caught fire from behind the arc: Stone, Cunningham, and St. Rose put up three-straight triples to cut the Rutgers lead to just two (39–37). Back to back driving layups from Cunningham pulled the Tigers ahead by two (41–39) as the third quarter came to a close. 

For Cunningham, who grew up near Rutgers, it was an opportunity to put on a show for her family and friends who had come to watch.

"I think it was exciting because it's basically a home game for me," Cunningham said. "Coming out in the second half, I kind of knew we had to turn it on offensively and get some points on the board. So [I was] just being aggressive, looking for my shot and looking for my teammates."

The Tigers laid down an oppressive 30-point fourth quarter, including 13 points from Stone. It made for a 55-point second half that was just five points shy of the program record for points in a half, which was set in 2016. Princeton shot 60 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and made quick work of the Scarlet Knights in transition. By the end, the Tigers had posted a 77–56 win, a far cry from the 15-point loss they stared down in the early third quarter.

"We've had a lot of games where it's single digits in the fourth quarter," Cunningham said. "[We're] learning, with the five people on the floor, how you're gonna win games when it's tight like that."

The Tigers will round out their non-conference schedule with a match against Rhode Island at Jadwin Gym on Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 2 p.m. They'll look to avenge last year's loss to the Rams, when they fell 61–53. The match will be available to stream on ESPN+.

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 corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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