The Princeton women (17-4, 7-1 Ivy) made a strong statement on the first night of league play, when they defeated two-time defending champion Penn (15-5, 6-2) at the Palestra, 70-55. After Tuesday night’s even more convincing 20-point blowout of the Quakers at Jadwin Gymnasium, the Tigers have put the rest of the conference on notice that they are the clear favorites to take the regular season and tournament titles.
When the two teams met on Jan. 6, the Quakers had only played 10 games on the season and three games in the preceding 26 days. Those three contests were against teams with a combined record of 6-31 (16.2 percent). The Tigers, meanwhile, had already played 13 games total and six in the preceding 28 days. Of those contests, their opponents’ combined record was 32-37 (46.3 percent), including road games against solid mid-major and high-major programs Quinnipiac, Chattanooga and Rutgers. As a result, Penn looked a bit rusty and overwhelmed by a Princeton squad that was more in rhythm,
Since that game, the Red and Blue went on a nine-game winning streak, the second longest in program history. They had a two-point triumph at Villanova (No. 23 RPI), which beat the Orange & Black by three at Jadwin, and a 15-point victory at Temple, which beat Harvard by 22 points. Besides claiming a Big 5 co-championship, the team won six Ivy contests with an average point production of 71.5 and margin of victory of 20.9 points. One of those victories was a 15-point decision over a Yale team that beat Princeton by 14 the preceding evening.
With first-year forward Eleah Parker capturing four straight Ivy Rookie of the Week awards, Anna Ross earning the program’s all-time assist mark, and Michelle Nwokedi, the reigning Ivy Player of the Year, netting four three-pointers and 30 points against Harvard this past Saturday, the Quakers seemed to have everything in place for their rematch against the Tigers.
Princeton, however, was ready for Penn.
Since the Ancient Eight opener, the Tigers were 5-1 with their one loss at Yale following a 20-day layoff for final exams. In the five wins, the team averaged 76.6 points and posted a 22-point margin of victory. In last weekend’s games, the Tigers scored 162 combined points against then-first place Harvard and then-fourth place Dartmouth, while holding a Crimson team that had four straight 80-plus point games to a season-low 47 points.
From the opening tip, the Tigers used its speed to dictate a more rushed tempo. They rattled the normally sure-handed Quakers with three steals and fastbreak layups in the first six minutes. Lauren Whitlatch hit Penn’s first three-point attempt, but the team went 0-4 the rest of the quarter.
Nwokedi and Ross went four for their first five, with all made baskets coming within the paint, but Parker started out 0-for-3 from close range. The Princeton offense had success focusing on Bella Alarie down low and reserve guard Abby Meyers from outside. Both players ended the first quarter with seven points each on a combined 71 percent shooting, and their Tigers finished the first stanza up 18-15.
Princeton broke the game open in the second quarter with a 14-2 run over the first 6:40 and a 16-5 advantage through the entire period to go into halftime up 34-20.
Penn came into the second half more determined on both side of the ball. Ross, Nwokedi and Parker were able to force their way to the basket to score 15 of the team’s 17 third-quarter points on 54 percent two-point shooting. Defensively, Penn limited Princeton to 25 percent two and three point shooting. Despite the improved performance, the Quakers could only reduce five points off their deficit because they went 0-for- from three.
The Tigers stopped Penn’s momentum by going on a 10-3 run over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Finishing the victory, Princeton held the Quakers without a point for the last five minutes and a basket over the last 6:53.
As a team, the Tigers only shot 40 percent from two and 33 percent from three. Alarie, though, ended with 18 points on 60 percent shooting, 15 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, while Meyers added 17 points at a 47 percent rate. Leslie Robinson, who scored her only basket with 52 seconds left in the game, continually stymied Penn with her 10 assists, seven rebounds and two steals. Her 10 assists were the most for a Princeton player since Blake Dietrich in Dec. 2014.
Penn’s percentages, though, were much worse. The Red and Blue ended the night 31 percent (14-for-45) from two and 12 percent (2-for-17) from three. Ross and Nwokedi were the only two Quakers scoring more than four points, with the point guard producing 14 points on 43 percent shooting and the forward totaling 12 points at a 28 percent rate.
With eight Ivy League games completed, the Tigers and Quakers have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the conference. Not only do these two teams have the best records in the Ancient Eight, including a combined 11-1 record against the other six programs, but they are near the top of most of the league’s statistics. When viewing the 22 offensive and defensive categories on the Ivy League website, the Tigers are in the top three in 19 metrics and the Quakers are in 15.
Looking at the head-to-head matchups for these two rivals, it is evident that Princeton is playing at a more elite level than Penn. The Tigers have outscored the Quakers by 35 points, while limiting Penn to 22 percent two-point and 33 percent three-point shooting. As much as Alarie and Robinson have outplayed Nwokedi and Parker down low, the dominance of the Princeton bench should not be overlooked. The Orange & Black’s subs have outscored their Red & Blue counterparts 54 to 14 with Gabrielle Rush putting up 17 points in game one and Abby Meyers adding 17 on Tuesday night.
Barring any major surprises or injuries, these two teams will make it to the Ivy Tournament, and be favored to meet for a third time in the finals. While Penn’s strong defense and home court advantage would certainly give them a competitive chance, the Tigers’ dominant defense and deep roster (44 percent of team’s scoring; Rush and Meyers averaging 20.8 points per game combined in league play), coupled with the Quakers’ low percentage shooting (41 percent from two, 34 percent from three and 62 percent from the line in Ivy play) and limited bench production (27 percent of points; no player with more than 5.9 points per game), make a Tigers’ championship a strong certainty.