Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Um, Boss, Someone Put Up The Women's Bracket A Little Early

So TigerBlog hopes that whoever the poor soul at ESPN who accidentally released the NCAA women's basketball bracket four hours early yesterday is still employed.

TB isn't quite sure that this will be the case, but hey, accidents happen.

In case you missed it, the women's basketball selections were supposed to air on ESPN at 7 last night. Instead, at about 3 in the afternoon, ESPNU accidentally had the bracket scrolling on the bottom of its feed.

Was it done on purpose to generate interest? TB read that someplace, though he did really consider that to be plausible. That leaves human error to explain it. 

How did this happen? Hmmm. TigerBlog has no idea, other than he imagined how the conversation went:
"Why the %@#@$ is the bracket already on our network?"
"Uh, not my fault."
"Not my fault."
"Not my fault."
"His fault."
"No, her fault."
"Nooooo. Not me."

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

ESPN would move the Selection Show from 7 to 5, since the draw was already known. Or, in the case of Princeton, because the Cats were already out of the bag.

Princeton, who clinched the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a 65-54 win over Penn in the championship game Sunday, drew the Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference in the opening round. The game will be played Saturday at 11 am in Raleigh, N.C.

Princeton is the No. 11 seed in the Greensboro Regional. Princeton and Kentucky, the sixth seed, have never met before.

The early announcement spoiled the plans for a watch party in Jadwin Gym, but it didn't spoil the excitement for the Tigers, who are headed to the NCAA tournament - and to Raleigh, site of last year's loss to Maryland - for the second straight year and eighth time in 10 years.

Kentucky is 24-7 and ranked 17th in the country. Princeton is 22-9 and the winner of 12 straight and 21 of the last 23.

TigerBlog learned a few things about Kentucky on the Wildcats website yesterday:
* Kentucky has reached the NCAA tournament nine times in the last 10 years
* Kentucky has hosted the first two rounds each of the last four years
* this is the first time since 2006 that Kentucky has been in the NCAA field and not been a top four seed in a region
* there are 34 people in the Kentucky team photo, 15 players and 19 non-players

The one year in the last 10 that Kentucky was not in the tournament was a year ago, when the Wildcats went 15-17. What's different this year?

Rhyne Howard, for one. The 6-2 guard is the espnW national Freshman of the Year, averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds while tying for the team-best with 68 made three-pointers.

Looking at Kentucky's stats, the Wildcats score 71.7 (Princeton averages 70.7) and allow 58.2 per game. What other numbers are there?

Kentucky is not a good rebounding team, ranking 239th, out of 349 teams, in the country in rebounding margins. The Wildcats are 214th in field goal percentage defense and 157th in three-point percentage defense.

And yet they're 34th in scoring defense. What explains that?

Kentucky causes a lot of turnovers. They are fourth in the country in turnover margin and seventh in turnovers forced.

Princeton has done a good job taking care of the ball, leading the Ivy League and ranking 53rd in Division I in turnover margin and 52nd in assist-to-turnover ratio. In other words, the story of this game could be Princeton's ability to control the ball.

Where else does Princeton rank well?

Princeton is the No. 6 team in Division I in team free throw percentage. The Tigers also rank 13th in blocked shots per game and in the top 100 nationally in 18 different team statistical categories.

Of course, this is the NCAA tournament, against an SEC team. On the one hand, nothing that got you here totally applies. On the other, it's one game, and anything can happen.

The Ivy League has two wins all time in the NCAA tournament, most recently by Princeton in 2015, against Wisconsin-Green Bay. Winning for the Ivy champ is never easy, and this one certainly won't be either.

Then again, it's a chance to make history. Princeton learned a lot from its 77-57 loss to Maryland a year ago in a game that was five points at the break. Bella Alarie had 12 points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks, numbers that are great for anyone else and probably left her wanting to improve upon this time around.

Gabrielle Rush hit a pair of threes in 16 minutes, and Carlie Littlefield played 25 minutes. In a perfect world, they'll go pretty much all 40 against Kentucky.

College basketball teams do everything they can to be playing in the NCAA tournament.

Princeton has been making it a habit for the last decade, but that doesn't mean the Tigers would ever take it for granted. These chances don't just happen.

And they are opportunities to make history, and that is definitely something to cherish.

Monday, March 18, 2019

NCAA Bound, Again

The Princeton women's basketball team was up three with little more than two minutes to go in the Ivy League tournament championship game yesterday afternoon when Bella Alarie caught the ball in the paint and was swarmed.

She had two options. She could force up a shot, which she didn't do, or she could pass it out to the open Julia Cunningham outside the three-point line, which she did do.

Cunningham then drilled the three, Princeton was up six, and after a tense 38 minutes, the last two were party time for the Tigers.

Final score: Princeton 65, Penn 54. Princeton is back to the NCAA tournament, for the eighth time in the last 10 years, after never having been there prior to that. 

The bottom line is this: Whatever play you need Bella Alarie to make, she'll make.

The most complete Ivy League basketball player TigerBlog has ever seen, male or female, had her whole game on display yesterday afternoon at Yale, and the result is yet another NCAA tournament bid for the Princeton women. Alarie finished with 25 points, six rebounds, five blocks, three assists and a steal, which came while it was still a six-point game with 1:23 to go and essentially ended any chance that Penn had left.

It was 47-44 Penn at the end of the third quarter before Princeton outscored the Quakers 21-7 in the final 10 minutes and held Penn to just one basket in the quarter, none in the final 6:28.

Alarie's extraordinary talent was on display from start to finish, as she played all 40 minutes. Without her, Princeton would have been down by 15 or 20 after three quarters, instead of being down by three.

It's a lot of fun to watch her play, to see a player who can do everything without ever seeming to be forcing anything. In the final against Penn, with all of the points she scored, it was the decision to kick it to Cunningham, making it 58-52, that was the biggest moment in the game, the one that forced a Penn timeout and gave Princeton its first two-possession lead since the 6:26 mark of the second quarter.

For TigerBlog, the best Ivy League rivalry right now in any sport is Princeton-Penn women's basketball. For someone whose four-decade love of Ivy League athletics traces back to Princeton-Penn men's basketball, this is pretty special stuff.

The teams have combined to win the last 10 Ivy titles, and they finished as co-champs this year, which makes the Ivy title count Princeton 7, Penn 4 in those 10 years.

The teams have now met in all three Ivy tournament championship games, and they both got through Saturday's semifinals by hardly breaking a sweat. After splitting their regular season games this year, the teams met yesterday afternoon for the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The first three quarters were played pretty much exactly the way Penn wants to play, grinding it out, playing good defense, putting pressure on every possession. It was 31-25 Penn with a minute to go in the first half before Alarie scored, Grace Stone drew a charge and Gabrielle Rush hit a three at the buzzer, making it 31-30 at the break.

By then, Alarie had 17, Rush had nine and everyone else had four. Penn would build the lead to as much as seven in the third quarter before it got to be 47-44 heading to the fourth.

That's when Princeton turned up the defense and unleashed Carlie Littlefield, who scored all 13 of her points in the second half and who made a bunch of huge plays down the stretch. Littlefield, of course, is the kind of player whose stats are meaningless; with the game on the line, you're always fine with the ball in her hands, and yesterday is all the proof of that you need.

Cunningham was also huge, as Sydney Jordan was limited to 15 minutes by foul trouble. The freshman played 21 minutes and finished with five points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal, and of course the biggest shot of the game.

Rush was also tremendous, with 18 points. She hit four three-pointers, giving her 87 for the year, two off Sandi Bittler-Leland's single-season record that has stood for 29 years.

It was a great team effort for Princeton, led by Alarie, obviously, but not just the Bella show.

And, of course, led by Courtney Banghart. She's the common denominator of those eight NCAA bids, having turned her roster over again and again and still putting out the best teams in the league.

She guided her team through a difficult start to the year, when Alarie was out with a broken hand for nine games, and then once again after the excruciating month of January, when Princeton lost its Ivy opener at Penn and then didn't play for four more weeks, and lastly when the team was 2-2 and Penn was 4-0 after a loss at Yale in early February.

Since then? The Tigers haven't lost. They won their last 10 in the regular season, and now they've won the league tournament again.

The NCAA tournament selections will be announced tonight at 7. Princeton, again, knows that it is in.

Where will the Tigers go? Who is the opponent? Those are the spoils for the victors this time of year in college basketball.

Princeton has earned it. No championships are easy. This one was harder than most.

Fortunately for the Tigers, they have a true team who brought a true team effort to the Ivy final yesterday - led, of course, by a true superstar.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Getting Serious

If you want to see something low-key and cute involving the Princeton women's basketball team, then you can click HERE.

If you want to see something really serious involving the women's basketball team, then you can click HERE, though not until tomorrow at 6.

The first link takes you to this week's "Beyond The Stripes" video, which is a lighthearted look at the skateboarders against the scooters on the women's basketball team. As TB said, it's all in good fun.

The other link takes you to the ESPN3 feed of the Ivy League tournament semifinal at Yale between the top-seeded Tigers and the fourth-seeded Cornell Big Red. Tip-off for that one is at 6, after the two men's semifinals.

It all starts at 12:30, when Harvard plays Penn in the first men's semifinal, followed by the Princeton-Yale game at 3:30. Penn and Harvard play the second women's semifinal at 8:30.

The men's final is noon Sunday. The women's is at 4.

The men's semifinals are on ESPNU, and the final is on ESPN2. The women's semifinals are ESPN3 broadcasts, with the final on ESPNU Sunday.

At around the time that the Princeton-Yale men's basketball game reaches the under-8 media timeout or so in the second half, the puck will be dropping in Minnesota in the NCAA women's hockey tournament between the host Golden Gophers and the Tigers. Face-off there is 4 local time, which is 5 Eastern.

You can see that one HERE.

No women's hockey team in the country has scored more goals this year than Minnesota, who has put up 153, and only one team, St. Anselm, has averaged more goals per game than Minnesota's 4.25. On the other hand, no player in the country has averaged more assists or points per game than Princeton freshman Sarah Fillier.
The Golden Gophers, the No. 2 team in the country, are also 30-5-1, and three of those losses are to No. 1 Wisconsin (along with two wins). Princeton is making its third NCAA trip, and all three have been games at Minnesota.

Can the Tigers win this one? It seems like 5-4 is a more likely score for Princeton than 2-1, so if Minnesota gets a goal or two, it's not time to panic.

With spring break here, it's a very busy week for Tiger spring teams, though mostly on the road. You can see the whole schedule HERE.

Another mid-afternoon start tomorrow featuring a Princeton team in a big game will come in Philadelphia, where the men's lacrosse teams goes against Penn in the Ivy League opener for both. This game has been a pretty important barometer the last three years: When Princeton's won the game, it's reached the Ivy tournament; when it's lost that game, it hasn't.

As a subplot, there's the individual matchup between Princeton's Michael Sowers and Penn defenseman Mark Evanchick, one year after Evanchick held Sowers to three assists in 14-7 Quaker win. No player has done a better one-on-one job against Sowers than Evanchick did a year ago.

You can watch the men's basketball game on TV and the men's lacrosse game HERE and keep track of both. As for the basketball game, it does remind TB of men's lacrosse tournaments past.

The Princeton men's basketball team lost its regular season finale to Yale last Saturday night by an 81-59 score. Can the Tigers turn it around that quickly in the rematch?

The 2013 men's lacrosse team lost its regular season finale to Cornell 17-11, in a game that wasn't really all that close. Then, a week later, the Tigers defeated the Big Red 14-13 in the Ivy semifinals.

Then, two years later, the men's lacrosse team did the exact same thing, turning a 15-10 loss to Cornell to end the regular season into an 11-7 Ivy tournament win a week later. Both times the Tigers made key adjustments that resulted in, well, a different result.

As for the women, Princeton is 2-0 this year against Cornell, having defeated the Big Red by 29 and by four. The Tigers led the second game by 21 with nine minutes left before a furious Cornell run.

Cornell did a better job on Bella Alarie than any other Ivy team this year, by the way. Alarie had her season low of 10 against the Big Red in the four-point win at Jadwin, and she had had 21 in the win in Ithaca. Her 15.5 points per game were the lowest against any Ivy school, 3.5 fewer than the next-lowest total, her 19.0 against Harvard.

The stakes are high in New Haven. For the winners of the tournament there is a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Princeton and Penn have played in the first two Ivy League women's basketball finals, and though they are co-champions this year, it's hardly etched in stone that they'll play against each other Sunday.

As for the men, Harvard and Yale tied for the league title at 10-4, something that curiously happened four straight times in the mid-1980s and never before that or after that until this year. What it tells you is that on any given night, who knows what could happen in this league.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Two-Topic Thursday

TigerBlog has two topics for your Thursday.

First, he was right.

Bella Alarie was the Ivy League Player of the Year in women's basketball.

The 2019 All-Ivy women's basketball team was announced yesterday, and, not surprisingly, Alarie was named the league's top player. Somewhat surprisingly, she was not a unanimous selection, though perhaps the fact that she missed the first nine games of the year due to injury counted against her.

You can add this to the fact that Jesper Horsted was not a unanimous selection in football this past fall as things that grab your attention.

Alarie's season was dominant in every possible way, with 23.0 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, two 40+ point games, three other 30+ point games, a 51 percent shooting percentage, a dominant defensive presence, great passing, uncanny ballhandling skills for someone 6-4 and essentially every skill you'd want in a basketball player.

For instance, she led the team in assists per game at 3.4. Is there any player her height who led her team in assists per game this year?

Alarie was at least a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection. That was a formality.

TigerBlog was happy to see Carlie Littlefield was a first-team pick as well. The sophomore from Iowa was her fierce self all season, averaging just under 14 points per game, leading the team in three-point field goal percentage and scoring in double figures in 12 of 14 league games.

And none of that really is what defines her. As TB said, her ferocity on the court is infectious, and she is able to lift everyone on her team through effort alone. Make no mistake. Princeton is more than just Alarie, and there would have been no Ivy League title without Littlefield.

The same is true of a bunch of other players on the roster, none of whom earned any All-Ivy honors, not even Gabrielle Rush, with her 12.4 points per game and 78 three-pointers. Nor was Courtney Banghart the league Coach of the Year.

Of course, when the Ivy League tournament tips off Saturday at Yale, honors will mean nothing. Princeton opens with Cornell at 6 (after the men play Yale at 3:30), and then the winner of that game plays the winner of Harvard-Penn Sunday at 4 for the league's automatic NCAA bid.

Princeton is assured of its 10th straight postseason trip, with no worse than a WNIT bid if the Tigers do not win the league tournament and NCAA bid that goes with it.

And that's women's basketball, for now.

Topic No. 2 is men's hockey.

There was huge news out of Princeton earlier this week with the signing of NHL contracts by seniors Max Veronneau, Ryan Kuffner and Josh Teves.

The Princeton men's hockey season saw a parade of NHL scouts come to Baker Rink to check out those three, and it seemed like every week there was another rumor about where they'd end up. None of the three had been drafted before coming to Princeton,  and in hockey, that's your only chance to get drafted. Once they were in college they were going to be free agents, which worked out better for them.

In the end, the scorecard looks like this: Veronneau to the Ottawa Senators, Kuffner to the Detroit Red Wings, Teves to the Vancouver Canucks. As an aside, TigerBlog was on the Senators bandwagon when they had former Princeton goalie Mike Condon and then gave up on them when they gave up on him. Now he's back on board.

Veronneau apparently will be with the team for the rest of the season, which is great, especially considering that he's an Ottawa native.

All three are extraordinary players, obviously, and then made watching Princeton men's hockey a lot of fun the last few years, beyond just the run to the ECAC championship and NCAA tournament a year ago. Every time they were on the ice, there was the potential for something exciting to happen, and their superior skills were obvious even to an uneducated hockey observer like TB.

Between them you have three of the top nine scorers in program history, as well as the career leader in goals (Kuffner), the single-season leader in points (Veronneau) and the all-time leader in assists by a defenseman (Teves).

TigerBlog wishes them the best. He's looking forward to seeing them in the pros. And, as he understands it, all three planned well for this and will finish their theses and graduate with their class.

And that's your two-topic Thursday.

Two topics. Five extraordinary athletes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

No I In Team

As they say, "there's no 'I' in 'team,' " which is an admirable sentiment.

The implication, of course, is that in sports, no one individual (I) matters more than the group itself (Team). There's a lot to be said for that, by the way.

Winning teams need winning cultures, and those aren't always easy to build on a team of "me-first" players. You've heard of the term "25 players, 25 cabs," which TigerBlog believes originated with the Boston Red Sox in the 1940s but generally refers to teams that have a bunch of players who don't, well, play well together.

It's really, really hard to win that way.

At Princeton the subject of culture comes up a lot in meetings with coaches, and even in individual conversations with coaches. There are teams that never, for whatever reason, achieve the right culture, and it's hard for talent alone to overcome that.

TigerBlog wrote yesterday about the 2000-01 Princeton men's basketball team, the one that John Thompson III took to the Ivy League championship and NCAA tournament in his first year as a head coach. That team is the perfect example of what the right chemistry can do for you.

There have been plenty of others here too. Teams with the right culture are teams where everyone has a role and everyone realizes that his or her role is integral to the team success. And not everyone's role is to score the most points.

When you get that kind of buy-in, you really have something. Even when it's a team of individual events, like swimming or track, you still need the right team culture.

And now, after having said all of that, TigerBlog will spend the rest of the day talking about individual honors.

The All-Ivy League teams were announced yesterday in wrestling and men's basketball, with women's basketball to come today.

In wrestling, Princeton has more NCAA qualifiers (six) than it has first-team All-Ivy selections (two), and neither of Princeton's two EIWA individual champions were first-team All-Ivy picks. That says a lot about how good Ivy League wrestling is.

Princeton's two first-team picks were Matthew Kolodzik, a junior who was first-team for the third time, and freshman Quincy Monday, both of whom are NCAA bound. EIWA champions and NCAA qualifiers Patrick Brucki, a sophomore, and freshman Patrick Glory, were named second-team All-Ivy, as were freshmen Travis Stefanik and Marshall Keller. Kevin Parker, a junior, was honorable mention.

Stefanik and Parker also got another big prize yesterday when they were named as at-large selections to the NCAA championships next weekend in Pittsburgh, bringing to six the number of Tigers who will be there.

Also, Chris Ayres was named the Ivy League Coach of the Year for the third time in four years. That's a lot of respect from his fellow Ivy coaches, who know full well what kind of job he's done building a national power - the Tigers finished the regular season ranked 19th in the country.

As for men's basketball, Princeton had two selections.

Richmond Aririguzoh is a second-team All-Ivy pick. Given where he was his first two seasons, his jump has been extraordinary. TigerBlog has said this all year.

Aririguzoh's 2018-19 numbers:
11.6 points per game
6.3 rebounds per game
.691 shooting percentage
.761 free throw percentage
25.5 minutes per game

And his numbers his first two years combined:
2.3 points per game
1.5 rebounds per game
.551 shooting percentage
.447 free throw percentage
7.9 minutes per game

As TB said earlier this year, he's never seen a player improve as much from his first two years to his junior year the way Aririguzoh has. He looked like a different person, one who added serious muscle to his 6-9 body, and his hard work on his game showed up everywhere, in his low-post game, his dribbling, his passing, his foul shooting.

As for Stephens, he was named first-team All-Ivy League for the second time in his career and All-Ivy for the third time, after being a second-team pick a year ago and first-team in 2017. Stephens is the 23rd player in program history to be a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection.

Stephens' Princeton resume also includes being the 2017 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, but he became way more than just a defensive stopper in his career.

In fact, Stephens currently sits in 10th place all-time in scoring at Princeton with 1,332 points, many of which came on either tough drives to the hoop or turnaround floaters in the lane. Just as TB hasn't seen anyone improve like Aririguzoh, he also hasn't seen too many Princeton men's basketball players who have ever played as hard as Stephens has, night after night, for his whole career.

Whether it's going after loose balls, rebounding, defending or anything else, Stephens has given maximum effort at all times. It's made him a crowd favorite in Jadwin, and it's also elevate him into elite status in the program's history.

Up next for Princeton basketball, by the way, is the Ivy League tournament, Saturday and Sunday in New Haven. You can see the Princeton men and women in back-to-back games, with the men against Yale at 3 and the women against Cornell following that.

All-Ivy women's basketball comes out today.

TigerBlog likes Bella Alarie's chances in that one.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Back To Minnesota

TigerBlog was the official stats person for the women's lacrosse game Saturday, a dramatic 15-14 win by Princeton over Stony Brook in a game that the Tigers trailed 14-10 with about 10 minutes to go.

Kyla Sears won the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week award after a six-goal, two-assist performance that included a goal and both assists during the winning 5-0 run.

TB parked his car by Jadwin Gym, where he was headed after the lacrosse game to write his stories and then do radio for men's basketball.

His halftime guest, by the way, was John Thompson III, who took the Tigers to three Ivy League titles in four years as head coach and then led Georgetown to the Final Four. Now an ESPN commentator, Thompson took awhile to get from where he was sitting to courtside to talk to TB, since basically everyone in the building wanted to say hi to him.

He's a well-loved figure at Princeton, starting with his days as a player in the 1980s and continuing as an assistant coach under Pete Carril and then Bill Carmody, whom he called the coach with the best basketball mind he's ever seen.

He took over the Tigers in September of 2000, after Carmody left for Northwestern. And after Joe Scott had left for Air Force. And Chris Young signed a professional baseball contract. And Spencer Gloger went back to UCLA. And his other projected starters were unavailable.

Undeterred, Thompson rebuilt the team on the fly and led it to the most unlikely Ivy League men's basketball championship that TB has seen here, and one of the most special. It was tremendous to watch it from TigerBlog's perspective as the men's basketball contact, to see a coach and a team grow together and take a big leap to a championship like that, culminating with a 68-52 win over Penn on the final night of the regular season that clinched the title.

If there's one thing about that season that still annoys TigerBlog 18 years later, it's that Nate Walton definitely should have been the Ivy League Player of the Year, though perhaps you had to watch him play every night to fully grasp his impact.

Anyway, where was TB going with all this? Oh yeah.

So when the women's lacrosse game was over Saturday, he walked back to Jadwin Gym. As he did so, he watched the women's hockey game on his phone.

Princeton was at Cornell for the ECAC semifinals, and the game was in overtime as TB walked back. It was in the second overtime that Cornell finally scored, winning the game 3-2 to advance to the final against Clarkson, who would beat the Big Red 4-1.

It was a day of OT for Princeton hockey, five of them in all, as the men would later that night play a three-overtime classic against Brown.

If there was a lot of drama to the game, there was no drama to the NCAA selections when they rolled out Sunday night. In hockey, you are what your Pairwise ranking says you are, and Princeton's said it was No. 7.

And so it was that Princeton got an at-large bid, drawing a date at No. 2 Minnesota Saturday at 4 Central time. It's a well-earned bid for the Tigers, who have had an extraordinary season.

It's the third NCAA tournament appearance for Princeton in women's hockey, and it's the third time the team will play Minnesota at Minnesota. It's also the second time in four years, so the current seniors know what to expect.

The Golden Gophers were the top-ranked team in the country until they lost to Wisconsin in the WCHA championship game this weekend. Minnesota is 30-5-1 on the year.

Of course, Princeton opened its season with two games at Wisconsin back in October, losing 4-3 and 3-0. The Tigers, one of three ECAC teams in the eight-team field along with Clarkson and Cornell, finished second in the league during the regular season and had a 20-game unbeaten streak at one point.

Princeton has a great mix of veteran players and dynamic rookies, and freshman Sarah Fillier has already established herself as one of the very best players in the country. The Tigers are 0-2 in their NCAA games at Minnesota, falling 4-0 in 2006 and then 6-2 in 2016.

Even if Princeton is a bit of an underdog, it's still special to be playing this time of year. It was the goal of every team when the season began five months ago, and it's something only eight teams in the country can say they're doing.

And Princeton is one of those eight.

Deservedly so. The Pairwise rankings may make the NCAA selection show an afterthought, but they certainly never lie.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Where To Start?

So where to start with the weekend that just ended?

With Adam Kelly? With the two EIWA wrestling champions and four NCAA qualifiers? With the women's basketball championship?

With all that and more, TigerBlog will start with the men's hockey team. The defending ECAC champion Tigers saw their season end, though they did not give up the crown without an extraordinary effort in their series at Brown.

Princeton lost Game 1 Friday night 3-0 and trailed 5-2 with less than four minutes to go before pulling the goalie and doing something extraordinary - tying the game with three goals in a 2:47 span. Think about that.

How often can that possibly have happened in any situation, let alone in a situation in which a team was facing elimination?

From there, the game got even crazier, becoming the longest game in Princeton and Brown history before the Bears won it 3:30 into the third overtime. It actually lasted longer than that, as the game-winning goal was reviewed for six minutes to see if the play had been offsides. If you're a Princeton fan, it clearly was. If you're a Brown fan, it clearly wasn't.

Either way, it was really, really close, and ultimately it stood, ending Princeton's season. Even so, it was an extraordinary performance by the Tigers to tie it and then by both through the overtimes, and it left TB wondering just what either team would have had left had a Game 3 been necessary.

Okay, so who's up next?

Adam Kelly, the senior weight thrower, finished second at the NCAA indoor track and field championships, setting an Ivy League record in the process. It was Princeton's best national finish in the event in 39 years, since Dave Pellagrini won it in 1980.

Kelly improved on each of his throws, eventually reaching 23.38 meters, second behind North Dakota State's Payton Otterdahl (24.11). It was the end of a great winter run for Kelly, who was also the Most Outstanding Field Athlete at Heps and then the USTFCCCA Indoor Mid-Atlantic Regional Field Athlete of the Year.

Then there was the wrestling team.

Princeton finished third at the EIWA championships for the third straight year, and, in an advance celebration of the coming holiday, had both of its Patricks win individual titles. First it was freshman Patrick Glory at 125 pounds, and then it was Patrick Brucki at 197; both Princeton wrestlers in the championship round defeated Cornell wrestlers they'd lost to last month in the duel meet.

Those two, plus Matthew Kolodzik and Quincy Monday, who both finished third, will be joining the two Patricks at the NCAA championships in Pittsburgh March 21-23.

Finally today, there's the women's basketball team.

Back on Feb. 8, Princeton lost 96-86 to Yale on Carril Court at Jadwin Gym, falling to 2-2 in the Ivy League, two games behind 4-0 Penn. What did the rest of the 2019 Ivy season have in store?

Well, on her weekly podcast, Courtney Banghart talked about winning the Ivy League championship, not just making the league tournament. And since then?

Her team hasn't lost. And, given how it turned out, her team couldn't lose, not if it wanted to win a league championship.

It's not easy playing with no margin for error. 

Princeton made it 10 straight wins by defeating that same Yale team 80-68 Saturday night. Penn's women lost twice since Feb. 8, losing to Harvard and Princeton, and so it's Princeton and Penn who finish as the Ivy League co-champions.

For Princeton, it's seven Ivy League women's basketball titles in 10 years. For Penn, it's four titles in 10 years. For everyone else, it's no titles in 10 years.

Bella Alarie had 31 points, 13 rebounds, six assists in the win over Yale, after having 19 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and four steals in the 88-68 win over Brown - and that was in just 21 minutes.

Carlie Littlefield had 23 points Friday night and 20 points Saturday night.

Up next is the Ivy League tournament, this coming Saturday and Sunday at Yale. Princeton earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of sweeping Harvard, the third-place team, and as such it'll be Princeton-Cornell in the first semifinal and then Penn and Harvard in the second.

Harvard and Penn split during the regular season, and it took overtime for Penn to beat the Crimson two weekends ago. As for Princeton-Cornell, Princeton won both, the first time by 29 points and the second time by four points.

Princeton and Penn have met in the final of the first two Ivy tournaments. The winner of the tournament goes to the NCAA tournament.

Oh, and where to finish today? With the women's hockey team, who is NCAA tournament bound, headed to Minnesota this weekend.

More on that later.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Tip-Off at 4. Again, Tip-Off At 4

TigerBlog starts out with a reminder that if you come to Jadwin Gym tonight at 7 looking for men's basketball, you'll already have missed it.

Tip-off tonight for the Princeton-Brown men's basketball game is 4, not 7. If you're not in the Princeton area, you can see the game on ESPNU.

If you want to listen on the radio, you can hear Patrick McCarthy on WPRB with TigerBlog, who texted Patrick yesterday and asked him if he knew what time the game was. He responded "4:00!"

It also took Patrick about 15 seconds to get back to TigerBlog. This made TB email Patrick's father Tom McCarthy, the former Princeton play-by-play man, to say that his own kids would never have gotten back to him that quickly and would Patrick get back to Tom that quickly.

Tom said yes, Patrick is pretty good about getting back to him. It's one of his daughters who never does.

Anyway, once again, that's tip-off at 4.

When the game was moved, TB was pretty sure it would be a big one as far as the Ivy League races were concerned, and that's exactly what has transpired. Princeton is one of three teams, along with Harvard and Yale, who will definitely be in the Ivy tournament next weekend at New Haven. Brown comes into the game today (did TB mention it tips at 4?) where it wants to be when it gets on the bus tomorrow night to go back to Providence - in fourth place.

Staying there won't be easy for the Bears, though they do have some margin for error here. The easiest thing for Brown is to win tomorrow night against Penn and have Cornell lose at one game, and then the Bears are in their first ILT.

There are all kinds of scenarios, some straightforward and some complex. There's an excellent summary of it all on the Ivy League page, and you can read it HERE.

Princeton, for its part, can be seeded either No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the tournament. Princeton can get an outright championship or a share of the championship, but it can get neither unless 1) the Tigers at a minimum beat Yale but more likely sweep and 2) Harvard loses to either Columbia, Cornell or both.

No matter what, though, today's game is huge for both teams.


On the women's side, Courtney Banghart's team, 10-2 in the league and tied with Penn for first place, has also clinched a spot in the ILT. A pair of wins on the road at Brown and Yale would mean no worse than a share of the championship and the top seed in next week's event.

HERE is the women's version of the story about tiebreaker scenarios. There are four teams who arecompeting for the last two spots, though Brown is not one of them. This could be a bad thing for Princeton and Penn, since the Bears' postseason is actually this last weekend of the regular season, and Brown would like nothing more than to knock off one or both of the teams at the top to end the season and build momentum into the offseason.

The Ivy League basketball championships are the last ones of the winter that will be decided.

The wrestling championship was decided a few weeks ago, but this is still a huge weekend in that sport, as the EIWA championships will be contested at Binghamton. You can read TB's colleague Craig Sachson's very in-depth preview HERE.

In short, the Tigers are hoping to finish second on the team side and qualify somewhere from five to seven wrestlers for the upcoming NCAA championships.

Princeton has finished third at the EIWA meet the last two years. The Tigers won the 1978 EIWA title and then didn't have a finish as high as fifth until 2016, followed by back-to-back thirds. Again, this program has had a meteoric rise.

In another sport where NCAA bids are on the line, the men's and women's fencing teams are at Lafayette tomorrow for the regionals. You can read about those HERE.

Beyond that, there a lot of other events involving Princeton teams this weekend, including weight thrower Adam Kelly at the NCAA championships, both hockey teams in the ECAC playoffs (TB wrote about that yesterday), a home women's lacrosse game against Stony Brook, the chase for the Meistrell Cup between Princeton and Rutgers in Piscataway and a baseball road trip.

The complete schedule is HERE.

And once again, let TB finish where he started:

Tip-off for Princeton-Brown tonight on Carril Court is at 4.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Playoffs On Ice

Sarah Fillier has 54 points in her freshman women's hockey season at Princeton University.

Those 54 points have come on 20 goals and 34 assists, which isn't surprising, given how well she sees the ice and what a great feeder she is. Do they say "feeder" in hockey?

There are seven players in Division I women's hockey who have reached the 50-point mark for the season, and only four others have reached 54. 

Of the other six who have gotten to at least 50, 1) they've all played at least seven more games than Fillier and 2) none are freshmen. In fact, of those other six, one has played 34 games while the other five have played either 36 or 37. Fillier has played 27.

Fillier actually leads Division I in points per game at 2.0. She is a finalist for three major ECAC awards: Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Forward of the Year.

Oh, and the record for points in a season by a Princeton freshman? It's 61. And who holds it? Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who set the record in the 1987-88 season.

Fillier gets a chance to try to get closer to catching Marcoux Samaan's record when the women's hockey team plays this weekend at Cornell in the ECAC semifinals. The Tigers take on the host team in the first game Saturday at 1, followed at Lynah Rink by Clarkson and Colgate at 4.

The winners meet Sunday at 2 for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. More than one, and possibly as many as three, of the four teams will be playing next weekend, when the national championships kick off.

The Clarkson-Colgate game, by the way, matches the other two finalists for Player of the Year, as Clarkson's Loren Gabel, last year's winner, and Colgate's Jessie Eldgridge square off. Gabel is second in the country in points scored with 66, trailing only her teammate Elizabeth Giguère, who has 68.

Princeton is 1-0-1 against Cornell this year, including a 5-0 win at Lynah back on Jan. 11. Princeton also looked very sharp in its sweep of St. Lawrence last weekend.

Cornell is 14-2-1 since that loss to Princeton, though one of those two losses came last weekend, when the Big Red was pushed to the limit by RPI before winning that series 2-1. The Big Red needed OT in the first game in a 2-1 win and then lost 2-0 in Game 2 before winning the last game 6-1.

Also, if you're into wild stats, guess what shots were in Game 1? How about Cornell 65, RPI 7. And in Game 2? How about 49-10. Through two games, that meant shots were 114-17 and yet goals were 3-2 the other way, and that also meant that RPI goalie Lovisa Selander had made 112 saves.

If her name is familiar, she was the one who made 57 saves in a 2-1 win over the Tigers at Baker Rink two weeks ago. 

Shots in Game 3, by the way, were 61-8, which meant that Selander made 167 saves in three games. Can a player who didn't reach the final four of the league tournament be the tournament MVP?

The men begin defense of their ECAC tournament championship of a year ago when they head to Brown for a best-of-three series tomorrow night, Saturday night and if necessary Sunday night. If you're up there, face-off is 7 for the first two and then would be 5 for Sunday if a Game 3 happens.

Princeton finished ninth in the regular season and will take on the eighth-seeded Bears. There is no team in the league dying to play the Tigers right now, not after what they did last year in the postseason and not with all that playoff experience still on the team. In fact, Princeton will be returning to the same rink where six days earlier the Tigers defeated Brown 5-1 in the regular season finale, concluding a weekend sweep that started with a 3-2 win at Yale.

Other than being on the road for the first weekend, Princeton isn't in that different of a spot than a year ago. TB has sensed all year that the Tigers were biding their time, waiting to peak at the right time. 

This is the right time.

It's the right time for both hockey teams, who both are playing for huge stakes this weekend. Both want to keep playing next weekend, when the stakes will be even higher.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


There's a computer program called "Stat Crew" that is used for in-game stat-keeping for pretty much every sport by every college.

TigerBlog certainly has enough experience with it. He's used it for lacrosse all these years, as well as for other sports. Most recently, he filled in at women's hockey Friday night to do Stat Crew. He's done field hockey, a lot of soccer, some football, never volleyball (that's just way too hard).

The programs are all basically the same. You enter codes that correlate to any possible situation in the game, and you enter numbers for players who had that stat.

For instance, in lacrosse, if No. 22 Michael Sowers passes the ball to No. 12 Emmet Cordrey, who then scores, then you enter "S" for a shot and then the program knows to ask you for which team, so you enter "P" for "Princeton." Then it'll ask you for the uniform number of who took it, so you enter "12." Then the program asks you for the outcome of the shot, and there's a code for everone: G for goal, P for pipe, H for high, W for wide, S for save, B for blocked.

In this case, then, it's S-P-12 and then "G" for goal, at which point the program knows to ask if there's an assist or not, and so you enter "22" for the assist.

The game's stats are totaled from a running accounting of the numbers as they're entered and automatically adds up each team and individual total, as well as producing the live stats. When the game ends, you can upload the XML file that is produced for a box score and to update season stats.

It may sound a little complicated, but if you do it two or three times, you'd get the hang of it.

For the men's lacrosse game against Johns Hopkins, there were 273 different stats that TB had to enter from start to finish, which is about an average number. If you want to multiply that out time all of the events that TB has done stats for, then you get a really, really high number.

Princeton first used Stat Crew for lacrosse in the 2003 season, which comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 stats that TB has entered here for men's lacrosse. Add to that all of the NCAA championship weekend games he's done, and that's another 20,000 or so.

Then add every other sport he's done, and that's probably another 20,000 on top of that, which comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 different stats.

What's his point? Well, this Saturday there was one stat that he'd never experienced before, one that not too many people ever get to do - and one that meant more to him than any of the other 70,000 ever has.

For the record, it was "B-P-29." It sounds so simple. It wasn't. It was a lot of things, but simple wasn't one of them. It was emotional. It was exciting. It was awesome.

If you go way back to the beginning with TigerBlog, then you remember the days when he'd refer to his daughter as Little Miss TigerBlog. In fact, he thinks the first time he wrote about her was back in December of 2009, when, as a nine-year-old, she decided she wanted to try out for a local community theater production of "Meet Me In St. Louis."

Eventually, she literally zoomed past the "Little" part as she grew to be a shade below six-feet tall, becoming instead simply Miss TigerBlog and now, Miss TigerBlog ’22.

Her theater career pretty much began and ended with "Meet Me In St. Louis," except for a small role in a middle school play. Instead, she went down the path of being a scholar and an athlete.

When she was still LMTB, she never really seemed all that invested in playing sports, which would have been fine if that's how she would have wanted it. In middle school, she was content to be part of a team, even as she showed flashes of her potential.

By her last two years of high school, she began play with ferocity, and she also began to use her natural size and athleticism to become a force in field hockey and especially lacrosse. With her academic record, she was recruited by some really strong academic Division III schools, but she had a different plan in mind.

She applied instead to Princeton and then, after being accepted, walked onto the women's lacrosse team here, now playing for the same head coach, Chris Sailer, who had given her the first lacrosse stick she ever had about 13 years ago.

MTB is living out the experience that TigerBlog has seen so many athletes here enjoy, and he couldn't be more thrilled for her. She has been introduced to a great group of women's lacrosse players, and she has been warmly welcomed by the upperclassmen and the other eight freshmen.

She is also learning all of the great lessons that Princeton Athletics stands for, the "Education Through Athletics" that has touched so many before her. From TB's perspective, he's gotten a new appreciation for it all as he has watched his daughter from Day 1 of her time here.

It's been fascinating to him, to see all of the things that he's discussed in so many meetings for so many years play out firsthand for her and just what a positive impact it's all having on her.

In fact, TB maintains that one of the things that has given her the confidence to succeed here academically was tied to something athletic, something as simple as passing the women's lacrosse team's run test in the fall. It's hard to explain, but it made a real difference on her as a Princeton student, not just as an athlete.

TB saw her at Freshman Athlete Orientation back in September, which was really cool. He saw her play in fall scrimmages, which also made him smile. The same thing happened when she in with the rest of the team for headshots or posed greenscreen pictures, wearing her Princeton uniform.

Then there was this past Saturday.

Princeton was playing Columbia, a game the Tigers won 19-1. It was 15-0 at halftime, and TB had a sense that every healthy player would get in the game at some point of the second half.

TB was sitting in the Sherrerd Field press box, where he was the official statistician. He was entering "S-P-8-G" or "S-P-20-G" every time Tess D'Orsi or Elizabeth George scored, and every other stat that came along.

As the second half went along, Sailer started to tap different players on the shoulder to tell them to get loose. Eventually, she tapped MTB's shoulder.

And so here it was. For the first time in all the years TigerBlog has been watching Princeton Athletics - 30 of them - he was about to see his daughter play for the Tigers.

She got in the game with about five minutes or so to go. Then, with a little more than three minutes to go, Columbia had the ball in its offensive end. Orna Madigan had the ball for the Lions, and she was being guarded by Lillian Stout, one of MTB's classmates.

Madigan tried to pass, but Stout got her stick in the way, forcing the ball to the middle.

For TB, that meant "T" for turnover, "C" for Columbia and then "16" for Madigan. Then the program asks for a caused turnover if there is one, and that went to "5," Stout's number.

And what happened next?

MTB, near the crease, scooped up the ball. Then she ran towards the sideline and up the field, passing it across the midline to a teammate who was fouled, giving possession to Princeton.

Sitting up in the booth, TB entered "B-P-29."

"B" is for ground ball. "P" is for Princeton. "29" is for MTB.

It's really hard for TigerBlog to accurately describe the emotions of the moment. His daughter was playing for Princeton. And he got to enter her stat into the stat program. A lot of people have coached their kids in college. Not too many have entered their first career stat. Yeah, that sounds weird and all, but from TigerBlog's perspective, it was a moment unlike any he'd ever experienced.

Seriously, he's seen thousands of Princeton Athletes play thousands of games. He's seen national championships, amazing comebacks, wild finishes, unbelievable individual performances, record-setting moments.

What happened last Saturday, though, was for him the most special Princeton moment he's ever had. His daughter, in a Princeton uniform, competing as a Princeton Tiger.

Don't tell anyone, but he teared up a bit.