Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Winner Take All

TigerBlog took a quick look at the game program for tonight's Princeton-Penn women's basketball game, and really everything anyone needs to know was right there on the cover.

Underneath the big Princeton and Penn logos, the whole story is being told. Princeton (23-4, 12-1) vs. Penn (23-4, 12-1).

So yeah, this is a big game. Tip-off is at 5:30, followed by the men's game between Princeton and Penn at 8. Both games can be seen on ESPN3.

For the third time in Ivy League basketball history - all on the women's side - there is a winner-take-all game to end the regular season. Win and you get the big prizes of an outright Ivy League championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Lose, and you play in the WNIT - and as TB said yesterday are probably the best second-place team in Ivy women's basketball history.

Penn defeated Princeton 50-48 in the Ivy League opener for both, back on Jan. 9. Since then, Princeton has gone 12-0, with 11 double-figure wins and one nine-point win. Penn also has 11 double-figure wins - and one loss, 51-46 to Cornell two weeks ago.

As a result, the teams are tied for tonight's game. Had Penn run the table, then Princeton would have had to win tonight to force a playoff this weekend.

Also as TB said yesterday, this is the third time this situation has come up. It's never happened in men's basketball, not once.

In women's basketball, Dartmouth defeated Harvard in 1995 and Penn defeated Princeton two years ago. Dartmouth won both games that year against the Crimson. Princeton had defeated Penn in the first meeting two years ago. Neither winner-take-all game was close.

Want a little more history?

That first Princeton-Penn game this year was the third game in the nine years that Courtney Banghart has been the coach that Princeton the Tigers lost a game in which the winning team didn't score more than 50 points.

The other two were against Rider in Year 1 (45-42) and Year 2 against Dartmouth (43-42).

Penn held Princeton to 48 points and 28% shooting from the field, including 6 for 31 in the first half. That's below 20%.

From start to finish that game was played the way Penn wanted it to be. Low-scoring. Nothing easy.

If you look at the Ivy League stats, you can see why.

Pick an offensive stat, and Princeton leads. Pick a defensive stat, and Penn leads.

Penn didn't exactly light it up in the first game either. The Quakers shot 17 for 62, which is 27.4%.

What Penn did do was grab the early lead, hold it for most of the game and execute when it was needed most.

Does any of that matter this time around? Yes and no. It certainly didn't matter two years ago, when Penn had a 47-point turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2, after losing 84-53 and then winning 80-64 in the last game.

As for Princeton, the Class of 2016 hopes this is the last time it plays at Jadwin. There is the possibility of a home WNIT game for the loser of tonight's game, though neither team wants any part of that.

It's easy to look at the two scores from this past weekend (by 13 over Harvard in a game that was 20 in the fourth quarter and 26 against Dartmouth) and think they were both easy. In reality, Harvard hung around for the first three quarters and was within three when Kenya Holland hit a big three to double that up and begin the push that made the game safe.

There is quick turnaround from a Friday/Saturday weekend to a Tuesday, especially for teams that are used to playing back-to-back and then having six days off. They get into routines for days off and heavier practices, scouting, focusing on Friday's opponent one day and Saturday's another.

Now it's turned around a little. And with a ton on the line.

Princeton will want to push tempo. Penn will want to make everything difficult.

No matter what, it'll be a great scene in Jadwin Gym tonight.

Princeton has won five of the last six Ivy League women's basketball championships. The one they didn't win was their motivating force a year ago, when they went 30-0 in the regular season.

Penn has one starter - Sydney Stipanovich - who started the game two years ago. Princeton has two, Michelle Miller and Alex Wheatley. Annie Tarakchian, who just won her eighth Ivy League Player of the Week award, played 17 minutes off the bench. Amanda Berntsen and Vanessa Smith also played. No other current Penn player other than Stipanovich played in that game.

Does any of that matter? Nope.

Now it's about executing, defending, imposing your will on the game.

And then celebrating.

Again, it's 23-4 Penn against 23-4 Princeton. Both are 12-1 in the league.

Winner take all.

Tip at 5:30.

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