Ivy League Women’s Tournament semifinal preview – No. 4 Cornell vs. No. 1 Princeton

No. 4 Cornell (12-13, 6-8 Ivy) vs. No. 1 Princeton (20-9, 12-2) Sat., 6:00 p.m. ESPN3

Season Series – Princeton 2-0
2/2/19 at Cornell; Princeton wins 75-46
2/22/19 at Princeton; Princeton wins 68-64

Streaks
Princeton: won last 10
Cornell: won three of last four

Princeton (conference stats)
Bella Alarie (First Team All-Ivy; Ivy Player of the Year): 24.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 blocks
Carlie Littlefield (First Team All-Ivy): 14.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists
Gabrielle Rush: 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists
Sydney Jordan: 6.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists

Cornell (conference stats)
Laura Bagwell-Katalinich (First-Team All-Ivy): 18.3 points, 8.6 rebounds,
Samantha Widmann: 10.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists
Kate Sramac: 5.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists
Danielle Jorgenson: 3.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists

Dynamic duos

Bella Alarie is a three-time first-team All-Ivy and a two-time Ivy Player of the Year.  In a league of talented players, she is head and shoulders above them all.  She can obviously can score down low, but she has improved her three-point shooting and mid-range game.  She can rebound and block, but she can also assist and bring the ball up like a point guard.  Carlie Littlefield is the team’s floor general, who took on a greater leadership role after the graduation of Leslie Robinson and the early season injury to Alarie.  In her sophomore campaign, she responded by being in the league’s top 10 in scoring, assists, assists-to-turnover ratio and steals.  For her efforts, the Waukee, Iowa native was named to first team All-Ivy.

Cornell’s Laura Bagwell-Katalinich played 11 minutes over three games in her first year at Penn.  After transferring to Cornell and sitting out last year, the 6′ 0″ forward surprised many around the league with her ability to battle the league’s bigs and drive the lane in transition.  She ended conference play, second in scoring, fourth in rebounding, third in free throw percentage, and seventh in field goal percentage, For her efforts, she was unofficially the league’s most improved player and officially named to the league’s first team.  Widmann was the undisputed leader of the Big Red in her sophomore season and successfully adapted to the arrival of Bagwell-Katalinich in her junior campaign.  In 2017-18, she was fourth in league scoring, eleventh in rebounding and second in steals and finished league play in the top 10 in rebounding, top 15 in field goal and free throw percentage and top 20 in scoring.

With Alarie and Littlefield combining for 52 percent of Princeton’s points and 43 percent of the team’s assists in league play, and Bagwell-Katalinich and Widmann produced 52 percent of Cornell’s points and 42 percent of the team’s rebounds, the teams will need their dynamic duos to put up their usual numbers on Saturday.

Three-point shooting

Both teams are comfortable pushing the tempo and getting the ball inside, looking for shots close to the hoop or getting to the foul line.  While Princeton has been better from two and the free throw line, Cornell certainly can compete with the Ivy co-champs.  The biggest difference in the two games has been at the three point line.  These are the two lowest rated three point teams in the conference, but the Tigers held a big advantage in the two head-to-head matchups.  In their two wins, Princeton has shot a combined 35 percent (17-for-49) and averaged 8.5 threes per game, while the Red shot 14 percent (3-for-21) combined with an average of 1.5 made threes.

With Cornell being one of the lowest three point shooting teams in the nation, both in attempts and percentage, it is unlikely that the Red will suddenly change form and put up a large number of points from beyond the arc.  The pressure then lands onto Princeton, especially, Gabrielle Rush.  The team’s most prolific three point shooter connected on 34.6 percent of her shoots in the non-conference schedule, but her number dipped to 32.1 percent in league play.  With that noted, she went a combined 7-for-16 from downtown in the Tigers two victories over Cornell.

If the Big Red have to spend too much energy battling Alarie down low and keeping Littlefield from driving the lane, Rush may find herself open for another big night.

Bench

If Cornell gets into foul trouble down low, it will send in 6′ 1″ sophomore Halley Miklos and 6′ 0″ first-year Theresa Grace Mbanefo.  Miklos started 17 games this season, including the first six of the Ivy schedule, averaging 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds a game.  Mbanefo has played in 13 league games, averaging 2.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in those games.  5′ 11″ junior Dylan Higgins could be a key member off the bench.  While she scored eight points on 13 percent shooting in her first nine Ivy contests, she has put up 24 points on 56 percent shooting over the last three games.

For Princeton, the key bench players will be 6′ 2″ junior Taylor Baur and 6′ 3 first year Lexi Weger.  Baur started the season opener against Rider, putting up 10 points and nine rebounds, then missed most of the next three months due to injury.  She returned for good in mid-February and has played in the last eight contests.  In the first six of those games, she totaled 15 points and 20 rebounds, but over the last weekend of the regular season she had a combined 20 points and 25 rebounds.  Weger only averaged 4.1 points per game in seven league contests, but she had her two best games of the season against the Big Red when she averaged 10.5 points (62 percent shooting) over 12 minutes per contest.

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