Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Big Win In Philly

TigerBlog watched the two Princeton women's basketball games last weekend at Jadwin Gym.

From his seat upstairs, he saw the Tigers get two huge leads and then have to hold on to win by four (Friday against Cornell) and six (Saturday against Columbia). He saw Bella Alarie score more than five fewer points in the weekend combined (24) than she'd averaged in her first seven league games (29.5) - and he had one thought.

See what happens Tuesday night.

Well, Tuesday night came around, and here's what happened: Princeton played a complete game start-to-finish and defeated Penn 68-53 in a game it absolutely had to have if the Tigers were going to win an Ivy League championship.

Penn, playing on its home court, came in a game up on Princeton, which meant that at the end of the night, either the Quakers would be two games up on the Tigers with four to play or the two would be tied. Now they're tied.

The win was the kind that Tiger head coach Courtney Banghart loves. For starters, her team defended very well, including forcing back-to-back shot clock violations on the Quakers early in the fourth quarter.

There were also big performances from Carlie Littlefield (14 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals, 38 minutes) and Gabrielle Rush (13 points, three rebounds, three assists, 39 minutes).

And then there was Bella Alarie.

Her 10-point and 14-point games over the weekend didn't matter in the least when the ball went up at the Palestra last night. This time, it was classic Alarie, as unstoppable a force as Princeton women's basketball has ever seen.

Alarie would finish with 33 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three assists and three blocks. She shot 13 for 21 from the field, moved perfectly without the ball, didn't force a thing and converted time after time in every way around the rim.

When she came out of the game with just over a minute to go, she gave her coach a big hug and a big smile.

By the way, her 33 points? That's just her fourth-best Ivy performance in 10 games, with other nights of 45, 41 and 38.

Princeton and Penn have upped their women's basketball programs the last decade, and the result is now a great rivalry, one that has replaced Harvard-Dartmouth as the best in Ivy women's hoops. It's not a coincidence that Courtney Banghart, by the way, was part of that Harvard-Dartmouth one as a player and assistant coach and, since she became the Tiger head coach, has been the driving force in the Princeton-Penn one.

Princeton has won six of the last nine Ivy titles. Penn has won the other three. Now with four games to go, they're tied for first at 8-2, a game ahead of Harvard and three games ahead of Yale and Dartmouth.

The Ivy League tournament is a little more than two weeks away, and Princeton still hasn't actually clinched its spot. Should the Tigers lose their last four, Yale win its last four and Harvard win at least two, then the Tigers would be out.

A win over Dartmouth Friday night would be the clincher. Then it's Harvard Saturday night, followed by a trip to Brown and Yale.

And then it would be, presumably, back to Yale, where the Ivy tournament will be held regardless of who wins the regular season. It will be there that the NCAA tournament bid will be earned.

Princeton and Penn have met in the first two Ivy tournament finals, with each winning one. The teams have now split their regular season matchups, each with a win on the other's home court.

Alarie, by the way, has 54 points and 27 rebounds in two games against the Quakers this season.

Could there be a third meeting this year between the teams?

That's getting ahead of things. Princeton has already lost once to Yale. Penn has lost to Harvard.

Still, it's an intriguing thought for fans of both teams that they might meet again on a neutral court, which, by the way, is something they've never done.

For now it's back into the league weekends, and that means another challenge. The games Friday and Saturday for both will be their fourth and fifth in eight days, whereas Dartmouth and Harvard will have had their usual full week of preparation.

It'll be March 1 Friday night, and in March, there's no time to worry about things like that. Now it's time to play for a championship and a spot in the postseason.

Last night was one step down that path. In this case, it was a huge step, one that the Tigers needed to have.

On nights like that, it's great to have Bella Alarie on your side.

No comments: