On Friday, Dec. 6, Princeton women’s basketball (9–5, 1–2 Ivy League) returned to Jadwin Gym looking to recover from a tough loss at Harvard (9–6, 2–1) on New Year’s Eve. Instead, they dropped a second consecutive Ivy League loss, this time a 58–55 overtime heartbreaker to Columbia (13–3, 2–1). The next day, the Tigers finally picked up their first Ivy League win as they made quick work of Cornell (8–8, 1–2), cruising to a 70–48 win.
Against the Columbia Lions, the Tigers struggled to find their rhythm offensively, making just 30 percent of their shots from the field. But they hit their stride defensively, holding the sharpshooting Lions to their lowest final score and second-lowest field goal percentage of the season.
“We worked really hard this week, and our defense was just so much better,” head coach Carla Berube told media after the game. “It was tough. We had some foul trouble, so people were in and out, but I don’t think we ever stopped working. And so I was really, really proud of them.”
Opening the match on a 7–0 run, Princeton kept Columbia at bay through the first quarter, forcing turnovers and quickly responding to the Lions’ attempts to get into the paint. By the second quarter, while both teams racked up turnovers, junior guard Kaitlyn Chen made good use of her mid-range jump shot. She nailed back-to-back baskets to open the second quarter, putting the Tigers up by eight, 19–11.
Princeton kept their distance from the Lions through the first half, but as the second half began, missed shots and a quick steal from Columbia guard Abbey Hsu opened the door for Columbia. The Lions would take off on a 10–0 scoring run, neutralizing the cushion the Tigers had built in the first half.
“We just didn’t come out of the locker room with the same energy,” Berube said to The Daily Princetonian. “We found it again, but, you know, you don’t want to just give up that many points that quickly.”
Now trying to claw back the lead, Princeton once again turned to Chen, and she delivered. Another pair of crafty mid-range buckets put the Tigers up one, 35–34, but they couldn’t quite pull away from Columbia as missed shots continued to pile up.
By the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Princeton was down eight and struggling to find any scoring power. First-year guard Madison St. Rose finally ended the drought, taking her defender all the way to the rim for a tough layup. After a pair of free throws and a clutch jump shot from senior guard Maggie Connolly, the Tigers had cut the lead to just five with 1:38 left to play in the fourth quarter.
Later, junior forward Ellie Mitchell snagged a critical rebound off of what would have been a dagger three-pointer from the Lions and flung the ball to Chen, who quickly dumped in a layup, cutting the lead to three. With just 23 seconds left to play, the Tigers once again turned to senior guard Grace Stone, who has lifted them out of tough corners all season long.
Chen inbounded the ball, searching for an open shooter; with Connolly screening off Stone’s defender, Chen had just enough time to find Stone open for a do-or-die three-pointer. Stone sank it — a clean shot that left the net snapping and the Lions calling a timeout.
The Tigers forced one final shot-clock violation to send the game to overtime at 52 apiece, which would prove to be just as fierce as those final few seconds of regular time. Columbia forward Kaitlyn Davis got into the paint early, and quick Princeton fouls sent the Lions to the foul line. However, Stone responded with another clutch three-pointer to tie up the game again, this time at 55–55.
In the end, the loss came down to untimely turnovers and missed free throws, while the Lions capitalized in the final seconds. Despite a 20-point effort from Chen, and 22 rebounds from Mitchell, the Tigers would drop their first loss to Columbia since 2008 and only their second Ivy League loss since February 2019. With a home crowd of 1,113 present, the Tigers might have hoped for a better outcome, but, with the strength of Ivy League competition this year, there will be lessons learned from each match-up.
“We’ve got to bring our best because it’s a really strong league,” Berube said. “They’re competitive games, and it’s great to be a part of this. That’s why we scheduled the way we did early in the season, so that we’d be ready for these kinds of games too.”
A balanced attack: Princeton devastates Cornell, 70–48
The Princeton offense that showed up the next day was hardly recognizable from the night before, despite facing a Cornell defense that ranks third in the Ivy League. The Tigers quickly built up a double-digit lead and held it through the vast majority of the game.
St. Rose nailed a couple of tough jumpshots early and maintained her scoring momentum throughout the game. By the end, she would lead the Tigers with a new career-high 15 points. Also of note was a shift in the distribution of field goal attempts. Chen usually leads the roster with an average of 14.2 attempts per game, but, against Cornell, no player took more than 10 shots. With most of the starting line-up able to stay out of foul trouble, the burden of scoring fell on Chen less often. She ended the game with 13 points on an efficient 5-for-6 from the field, four rebounds, and three assists.
The center and forward rotation was also much more flexible — Mitchell, who normally sees anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes on the floor, only played 18 minutes. With an 18-point lead built up by the mid-third quarter, the door was open for players up and down the Princeton bench to gain valuable playing time.
Sophomore point guard Amelia Osgood impressed early, putting up five points, all of which came at the free-throw line, and two rebounds in her 13 minutes. Senior center Kira Emsbo also worked her way to the free-throw line and scored her first point since 2019, when she was sidelined by injury.
Altogether, the Tigers showed over the course of the two days that they have the tools to put up a good fight. They have a clean 6–0 record in games where they shoot 45 percent or better from the field and a tough remaining Ivy League schedule ahead to continue testing and tinkering. Next up comes their final non-conference game of the season against Hartford (0–16) at Jadwin Gymnasium on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 6 p.m., with the match available to stream on ESPN+.
Isabel Rodrigues is a staff writer for the Sports section at the ’Prince’ who typically covers women’s basketball.
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