After a rollercoaster start to the year, Princeton women’s basketball (21–5 overall, 12–2 Ivy League) managed to right the ship and finished the Ivy League regular season with their 13th-straight win last Friday at Penn (17–10, 9–5).
With the newly crowned Ivy League Player of the Year, junior guard Kaitlyn Chen, leading the way, the Tigers have finally seemed to fill the hole in scoring left by the departure of Abby Meyers ’22. But the road to a second-consecutive Ivy Tournament Championship and a trip to the March Madness tournament appears far bumpier than it has been in recent memory.
“These four teams are the best of the Ivy League this year,” head coach Carla Berube said of the squads that qualified for Ivy Madness during a press conference on Thursday. “The level of skill and athleticism … I think it’s great for the Ivy League that it’s as competitive as it is.”
“After we lost to Columbia here in overtime … we [were] going to do whatever we could to get back here and to win that regular season championship,” she added. “I think sometimes it takes a little adversity to find out who you are and what you’re made of. And, you know, I’ve found out that my team, they’re a bunch of hard workers … They find so much joy in playing this game and it really shows through.”
Ivy Madness Preview
In the semifinal round, the top-seeded Tigers will face fourth-seeded Penn in a rematch of the two teams’ final regular season game. The other semifinal will pit second-seeded Columbia (23–4, 12–2) against third-seeded Harvard (16–10, 9–5). Princeton and Columbia finished as co-champions during the regular season, but the Tigers were granted the top seed due to their higher NET Ranking. Princeton and Columbia qualified for the 2022 tournament with the same seedings as this year; last year, Harvard was the fourth seed. This year, Penn replaces Yale (13–14, 7–7), which was the third seed in 2022 but failed to qualify this season.
Penn (according to Her Hoop Stats Projection: 93.6 percent Princeton win probability)
After Friday’s sub-optimal outcome on home court, Penn will be chasing redemption. However, it’ll take just about everything going right for the Quakers if they’re going to knock the Tigers out in the semifinal round. Penn closed out the regular season with a tumultuous couple of games, including a dramatic win over Harvard on Feb. 11 and a shocking loss to Brown (11–15, 4–10) on Feb. 18. They also have an early-season upset over Columbia under their belts and two double-digit losses to the Tigers.
Unsurprisingly, their wins against other Ivy teams in the tournament field came with near-perfect performances from their leading scorers, guard Kayla Padilla and forward Jordan Obi. But that formula simply hasn’t translated to their games against Princeton — in both of their losses to the Tigers, Obi and Padilla scored over 30 combined points, well over 50 percent of the Quakers’ total score in both matches. Penn will need to find another level of scoring, perhaps from forward Floor Toonders or guard Mandy McGurk, to take them over the hump.
“We’re dealing with a really good team — to me, one of the better defending teams we played all year,” Quakers head coach Mike McLaughlin told the media on Thursday. “We’ve had periods against them that were successful for us, but you have to put a full 40 minutes in.”
“We will try a few new things, and we’ll hopefully do some things we did the first time a little bit better. We’ve got our hands full, but we’re going to embrace it — this team is going to be ready,” McLaughlin added.
The Quakers are fourth in the Ivy League in scoring offense, averaging 63.2 points per game, and second in scoring defense, allowing an average of 59.5 points per game while limiting opponents to an average of 37 percent shooting from the field. Sitting at No. 118 in the NCAA’s NET rankings, winning Ivy Madness outright is Penn’s only significant path to a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Columbia (Her Hoop Stats Projection: 65.2 percent Princeton win probability)
The Lions are likely Princeton’s toughest competition; they sat atop the league’s standings early in the season and split the regular season title, their first title in program history, with the Tigers. But after a bumpy overtime win over Cornell (10–17, 3–11) to end the season, Columbia seems to be entering with less momentum than some of their competitors.
Led by the league's leading scorer, guard Abbey Hsu, the Lions pack a powerful offense that can regularly run teams out of the gym. Per CBB Analytics, Columbia has left the Ivy League in the dust, leading by a lion’s share in fast break points, possessions per game, and points off of opponent turnovers. Similarly to Penn, however, the Lions have struggled to replicate their go-to style of play against Princeton, averaging just 9.0 fast break points per game across their two games against the Tigers. While last Saturday’s near-fumble against Cornell raises concerns about how they’ll handle the heat when the spotlight shines brightest, Columbia’s consistent shooting and league-leading assists-to-turnover ratio prove their fundamentals are solid enough to fall back on. With Hsu at her best and clean performances from forward Kaitlyn Davis and guard Jaida Patrick, the Lions are formidable at worst and an upset waiting to happen at best.
“I think [the Cornell game] was a perfect representation of how we are a team," Hsu told the media on Thursday. "We fight through adversity. It was a high emotion night, it was senior night.”
"For us to go through a night with so many distractions and come through with a win with a huge price on the line shows that we could fight.”
Columbia are first overall in offense and third overall in scoring defense; they put up an average of 79.4 points per game and allow opponents 61.7 points per game. At No. 44 in the NET Rankings, they have a very real chance at an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, regardless of what happens this weekend. It would be their first March Madness appearance in program history.
Harvard (Her Hoop Stats Projection: 84.0 percent Princeton win probability)
Harvard is perhaps the most unpredictable team of the bunch, though by no means should they be counted out. With last year’s Rookie of the Year, guard Harmoni Turner, and breakout performances from guard McKenzie Forbes and guard Elena Rodriguez, the Crimson have taken plenty of teams to town throughout the season. Harvard may not have the momentum on their side, however, as they dropped losses to Penn, Columbia, and Princeton in their last five games.
“We've been through a lot this year. I don't think that League has seen the best of us yet. So I think we're ready to show that tomorrow and showcase that,” Harvard guard Maggie McCarthy told the media on Thursday.
Similarly to Columbia, Harvard runs a fast-paced, high-volume scoring offense, though they've had less success in transition. They have the fourth-best scoring defense in the league, limiting opponents to 63.2 points per game. Where the Crimson have shined, however, is at the free throw line — they lead the league in free throw percentage and take an average of 14.2 free throws per game. Turner is particularly solid at the line, leading the league in free throw percentage by nearly 15 percentage points. But with first-year head coach Carrie Moore at the helm, along with a deep roster that isn’t afraid to get scrappy, Harvard have proved formidable opponents all year long.
“We’ve talked a lot about just playing 40 minutes and completing games,” Moore told the media on Thursday. “I think the one time we've really done that is when we beat Princeton at home.”
“We're really fighting to do that again, and I think it’s possible against Columbia, against any team in this league.”
Despite losing to all three other tournament teams heading into the weekend, all three of Harvard’s losses were in the single digits and contentious to the final minute. If the Crimson come into Ivy Madness with that same energy and someone else missteps, they’re a step away from taking over.
Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Semifinal, Princeton vs. Penn
Princeton 70, Penn 58: Isabel Rodrigues, Senior Sports Writer
After a rough opening quarter last Friday and with a lot hanging on their upcoming performances, the Tigers should come out swinging in the semifinals. At the same time, I don’t expect Penn to play another seven-point third quarter like they did in the last matchup, particularly after having led through the majority of Friday’s game. But with the strength of Princeton’s defense, particularly in limiting interior scoring options for Toonders, Penn would have to pull out all the stops and then some to clear the Tigers. If Princeton executes a clean, fluid offense and hits their open shots, I expect them to leave this round with a win, and perhaps some relief to have avoided Harvard in the early-goings, who gave them a scare in last year’s semifinal.
Princeton 66, Penn 52: Tony Owens, Sports Contributor
I expect a similar story to last Friday, where Princeton may start the game slowly, but towards the third quarter the Tigers will go on a run to put the game completely out of reach. Last Friday, the Quakers had no answer for Princeton guard Kaitlyn Chen, who finished with 27 points on 60 percent shooting from the field at Penn. I do not expect the Quakers to step into a packed Jadwin Gym and defeat the hottest team in the Ivy League; thus, I expect the Tigers to win this game comfortably.
Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Semifinal, Columbia vs. Harvard
Columbia 68, Harvard 63: Isabel Rodrigues, Senior Sports Writer
While Columbia’s near loss to Cornell certainly raised my eyebrows, it’s clear to me that the Lions are not taking anything lightly — and to that effect, neither are the Crimson. I expect this to be a nail-biter to the end, though Columbia’s proven they can close tight games against Princeton and Harvard in the past. That experience, combined with Hsu’s late-game heroics, should be enough to put Columbia just over Harvard for the second spot in the tournament championship.
Harvard 56, Columbia 53: Tony Owens, Sports Contributor
On paper, Columbia are the favorites, given their league-leading record and their current five-game win streak. The Lions also got the best of the Crimson in their most recent matchup at Harvard. However, the most recent game against Cornell is cause for concern. Compare this to Harvard, who recently dispatched Cornell by 27 and led Princeton in the fourth quarter at Jadwin Gymnasium before ultimately winning by eight. It is clear that over the course of the entire season, Columbia has been the better team, but in a one-game playoff, I think Harvard will be able to narrowly defeat the Lions and advance to the final.
Staff Picks: Ivy Madness Final
Princeton 68, Columbia 59 (OT): Isabel Rodrigues, Senior Sports Writer
Despite playing in front of a sold-out Columbia gym, Princeton’s resolve and level-headed road win this season was hard to forget. If the Tigers can continue their win-streak through the semifinal, and Columbia prevails over Harvard, we’d be looking at two of the most equally-matched teams in the league and perhaps in the NCAA. If it took the entire regular season to break that tie, it’ll take at least one overtime to break it in the postseason. But ultimately, I think the Tigers’ composure under pressure, their tough non-conference schedule, and the depth of their bench rotation will give them the slightest edge.
Princeton 64, Harvard 55: Tony Owens, Sports Contributor
Even riding the hype of an upset victory, I do not believe Harvard will be able to keep up with the Tigers in the final. It will be even more difficult for the Crimson to win a second game in two days given that, of the five times they have played games on back-to-back days this season, their only time winning both was against Yale and Brown on the weekend of Feb. 3. I expect the Crimson to keep the game close as they did against the Tigers in their last matchup. But ultimately, Princeton will prove to be the better team, winning the Ivy League tournament in their 15th-consecutive victory.
Isabel Rodrigues is a senior writer for the Sports section at the 'Prince.'
Tony Owens is a contributor to the Sports section at the 'Prince.'
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