After picking up two early Ivy League losses against Harvard and Columbia, Princeton women’s basketball has started to turn the corner on their conference season.
On Monday, Dec. 16, the Tigers (12–5 overall, 3–2 Ivy League) defeated the then-undefeated Penn Quakers (12–6, 4–1) by a final score of 55–40. The win ended the Quakers’ league-leading 11-game win streak, which included a decisive victory over Columbia (15–3, 4–1).
Despite falling behind by six in the opening minutes, Princeton rallied back, shooting a respectable 40.7 percent from the field and limiting the Quakers to just two made field goals in the second quarter.
“We locked in, played really good defense, and made things difficult for them,” head coach Carla Berube said after the match. “The defense that I’ve been asking for, we finally just played so much better today.”
As of the conclusion of Monday’s game, Princeton has eclipsed Penn as the top scoring defense in the league, keeping opponents to an average of 56.0 points per game. But while the finishing touches were coming together defensively, the new year has seen the Tigers make leaps and bounds on the offensive end.
In the last four games, the Tigers have shot better than 40 percent from the field as a team, the longest stretch of games they’ve had shooting that well this season.
“We’re just really focused on trying to put [together] some of the pieces that were missing from our previous two games now,” junior forward Ellie Mitchell told The Daily Princetonian.
“A little adversity is good for us, so we’re trying to embrace it,” she said. “Losing stings, and we’re trying to use that feeling to help motivate ourselves throughout every game we play this entire season.”
Though for a stretch of games Princeton has played against teams ranked below the century mark in the NCAA’s NET Rankings, the Tigers haven’t taken their foot off the gas. In a matchup against Brown on Jan. 14, a 23-point third quarter pushed Princeton into a 67–54 victory over the Bears. Junior guard Chet Nweke grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds, and the Tigers saw seven different players score at least six points. According to Berube and Mitchell, working through Brown’s zone defense helped prepare them for the zone they’d face days later when the Quakers visited Jadwin.
“We don’t see many teams that play zone like [Brown],” Mitchell said. “It was very helpful, I think, just getting our sea legs playing against the zone, trying to move the ball and find these little gaps.”
Berube had a similar view: “When you’re playing against a zone, it’s just about finding the openings,” she said. “[Senior guard Grace Stone] is so good at that, just finding open players. So I do think the Brown game really helped us.”
Penn opened the game Monday on an 8–2 run, laying down an authoritative full-court press that the Tigers struggled to break. But Mitchell says their “next play” mentality and defensive focus was what helped get Princeton back on its feet.
“Sometimes we’re slow to start,” Mitchell said. “No matter what happens, we’re not going to get discouraged.”
It wasn’t long before the Tigers were on an 8–0 run of their own. Senior guard Julia Cunningham paced the Tigers with a confident three-pointer to end the quarter, putting Princeton up 15–10. It was lights-out from there: the Tigers out-scored Penn 16–7 in the second quarter, mounting what would soon become a 20-point lead.
First-year guard Madison St. Rose followed up her career-best 19-point game against Hartford with a 15-point outing, including three-for-six from three-point range, and five rebounds.
“She has the green light to shoot when she’s open,” Berube said. “I thought we found her really well today, we’re confident in her.”
Mitchell, who is St. Rose’s upperclassmen “buddy” on the team, was quick to praise the first-year guard. “I’m especially proud of her,” Mitchell said. “College basketball is a tough transition, and I think she’s handled it really well. We would not be as successful as we are without her.”
St. Rose’s defensive presence and improved shooting has earned her a spot in the starting rotation ever since the Tigers took down Delaware. She’s quickly become Princeton’s go-to, logging the highest usage rate of all Tigers who’ve played at least 200 minutes, per Her Hoop Stats. As her scoring improves, it’s hard not to compare her trajectory to that of Kaitlyn Chen, now the team’s leading scorer, from just a season ago.
Next up, the Tigers will head back on the road to face Dartmouth (2–17, 0–5) on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m. The Big Green are the only team in the Ivy League without a win so far this season.
Make the trek to Hanover at your own risk, though the game 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.