Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Fun Matinee At Jadwin

It was a few minutes before tip-off yesterday between Princeton and Texas in women's basketball, which is to say that it was a few minutes before noon.

It's one of the benefits of having a game during the time between semesters. You can play on a Wednesday at noon.

Anyway, it was a few minutes before noon when TigerBlog was asked if the 1996 men's game against North Carolina was the last time a team ranked as highly as Texas, who came in ranked 12th in the polls and sixth in the NET, had come to Jadwin.

Nope, TB said. It was Kansas, back in 2001. The Jayhawks were ranked fourth when they came to Jadwin for that game, which was 20 years and 10 days earlier. 

TB's biggest memory of that game is the long three-pointer that Ed Persia hit at the first half buzzer to make it a 35-29 game in favor of the Jayhawks at the break. He thought about that again when Abby Meyers knocked down a three-pointer to make it that same score midway through the third quarter.

Unfortunately, the result from there was similar to the result against Kansas. In the end, the highly ranked team was a little too strong for the Tigers. In 2001, the final score became 78-62 Kansas. Yesterday, it became 70-53 Texas.

It was, in some ways, like an NCAA tournament game. The challenge was to compete with a team that is heavily favored, in this case, a team that has already beaten the likes of defending NCAA champion Stanford this season.

To do so, you have to successfully do one of two things. Either you have to play a perfect game (see Villanova men from the 1985 NCAA final against Georgetown) or get the other team to play a totally imperfect game (see Princeton vs. UCLA in the 1996 NCAA men's tournament).

What Princeton did against Texas yesterday was neither of those. Instead, what Princeton did was somewhere in between, with enough amazing moments to keep it close most of the way but with enough frustrating moments mixed in.

What you were left with was an entertaining game that left a few obvious conclusions. First, starting with the frustrations: 

* Princeton shot 19 for 66 for the game, with a 4 for 29 start that put the Tigers in a hole that was difficult to turn around. Princeton also missed its first 10 three-pointers before making six of their final 16. Texas, with 6-4 Lauren Ebo and 6-4 Latasha Lattimore, made getting to the basket difficult, but Princeton did a great job of finding open players on the perimeter. The shots just weren't falling, especially in the first half.

* Texas was outstanding at finishing, shooting 27 for 52 against the Tigers. The Longhorns excelled at creating their own shots, and a stat of eight assists on 27 made baskets (which Texas had) isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

* Princeton turned the ball over 21 times against the relentless Longhorn defense. Ultimately, Texas was able to wear Princeton down enough to take command of the game.

* The final margin was 17, but it seemed like a much closer game than that. Princeton twice got it to four points in the third quarter.

On the other hand ...

* Abby Meyers was terrific, as she led all scorers with 21 points, almost four above her average. She was in attack mode all game, starting early, when she had all eight of Princeton's first quarter points. Meyers plays a fearless game, and she shoots every shot with great confidence. 

* You cannot play harder than Ellie Mitchell did. She was amazing. Matched up against the Texas inside players, she put up 10 points and 16 rebounds, of which 12 came on the offensive end. She was everywhere, with endless energy, something that's even more impressive when you realize that everything she did all day was contested and that she went all 40 minutes for the first time in her career. Mitchell's 16 boards aren't a career high; she had 19 against Seton Hall earlier this year. She is now second in the Ivy League in rebounding, averaging 10.1 per game, one rebound off the league lead.

* Led by Mitchell, Princeton had a stunning 21-4 edge over Texas in offensive rebounds. When a team shoots better than 50 percent, like Texas did, there aren't too many offensive rebounds to be had, but Princeton swarmed after every loose ball all game.

It would have been better had the final score been a bit tighter, but Princeton stood up to a huge challenge and gave a good account of itself. And a thank you has to go out to Texas and head coach Vic Schaefer for bringing his team to New Jersey.

In the end, it was an entertaining game. What more could you have asked for on a Wednesday afternoon?

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