Monday, February 4, 2019

45 For Bella Buckets

The best part of working in athletics at Princeton University is the opportunity to meet, work with and see the development of the young people who compete here.

They're an extraordinary group, and it's been that way since Day 1 for TigerBlog. The wins and championships are great. It's the athletes who make all the difference.

For TigerBlog, that's always been the best part of Princeton Athletics.

The best part of sports in general, though, is a little different. For someone whose career has revolved around going to games, the best part is never knowing when you're going to stumble onto something special.

Even Super Bowls aren't always all that memorable, as everyone had reinforced for them by yesterday's forgettable display.

TB has seen nearly 25 NCAA men's lacrosse championship games, for instance. Some of them are just a blur. Others, especially the four that Princeton won in overtime, are indelibly seared into TB memory.

Most games do not have any such historical significance to them, and once they're over, it's a win or a loss and on to the next one. Ah, but you have no way of knowing that when they start.

For instance, on that night nearly 20 years ago, nobody had any idea walking into the Palestra that the men's basketball game about to be played between Princeton and Penn would be talked about forever. TB will have more on that one as the actual anniversary approaches.

All of this, of course, brings TB to the this past Friday afternoon at Columbia's Levien Gym. To those who were there, it figured to be just another Ivy League women's basketball game, this one between Princeton and Columbia.

It wasn't.

Princeton was playing for the first time in 27 days, not since an Ivy-opening loss to Penn on Jan. 5. The long exam break ended with a weekend trip to Columbia and Cornell, and the Tigers could not afford a sluggish start against the Lions. There would be no time to shake off any rust.

TigerBlog was not there. He was watching on ESPN+. The first Princeton possession went inside to Bella Alarie, who flipped it into the basket.

From in front of his computer, TB thought "that was easy."

The game would end 79-64 in favor of the Tigers. By the time it was over, Alarie would:

* score 45 points, the most ever by an Ivy League women's basketball player in any game
* make 20 field goals, also an Ivy League record and the most by any player in women's college basketball this season
* score 20 points in the first half and then add 25 more after intermission
* break the Princeton career record for blocked shots

As individual performances go, Alarie's effort against Columbia got TB thinking about where it ranks in Princeton history, across any sport. That's how good it was.

When it was over, TB texted Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart to remind her that he had said on one of their podcasts that Bella's 40-point game was coming at some point.

Speaking of scoring 40 points or more in a game at Princeton, the only player who had ever done it prior to Friday night was Bill Bradley, who had done it 11 times in his three varsity seasons. Bradley also reached 45 or more points five times.

So that's what you're left with for this conversation. You have Bill Bradley and you have Bella Alarie, and when you've done something that only Bill Bradley has ever done at Princeton, you're talking about something incredible.

Before this year - and before she missed the first nine games due to a hand injury - Alarie was already in the conversation for being possible the best Princeton or even Ivy League women's basketball player ever. Now she's raised her game to an even higher level.

She's certainly the most complete basketball player TB has ever seen in the league, male or female. There's nothing she can't do and do well - score inside facing the basket, post up, drive to the basket, shoot threes, rebound, block shots, dribble, pass, beat a press by herself, anything you need.

She followed up her 45-point, 14-rebound, four-blocks performance against Columbia with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in a 75-46 win over Cornell Saturday. That was while playing just 27 minutes.

For the weekend, it was 66 points, 24 rebounds and six blocked shots. That's ridiculous.

Princeton needed to get a pair of wins this weekend to get back on the court and back in the league race. It did just that.

Alarie made it more than just two wins, though. She made it what sports is all about.

History. You never know when you're going to see it.

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