NCAA Tournament preview: No. 11 Princeton vs No. 6 Kentucky

Greensboro Regional – First Round (Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh, N.C.)
No. 11 Princeton (22-9 overall, 12-2 Ivy – Co-Champions, Automatic Bid) vs No. 6 Kentucky (24-7 overall, 11-5 SEC – 4th, At-Large Bid) 11:00 a.m. ESPN2

Princeton
RPI: #44
Last 10: 10-0
Conference Honors: Bella Alarie (Ivy League Player of the Year, First Team All-Ivy), Carlie Littlefield (First Team All-Ivy)

Starters
Bella Alarie (F, Jr): 23.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.9 blocks per game, 54.9 percent 2 point FG, 32.5 percent 3 point FG, 83.0 percent FT
Carlie Littlefield (G, So): 13.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 41.9 percent 2 point FG, 36.2 percent 3 point FG, 75.2 percent FT
Gabrielle Rush (G, Sr): 12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 46.1 percent 2 point FG, 34.9 percent 3 point FG, 75.5 percent FT
Sydney Jordan (F, Sr): 6.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 47.4 percent 2 point FG, 75.8 percent FT
Grace Stone (G, FY): 4.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.7 apg, 33.3 percent 2 point FG, 82.4 percent FT

Key Reserves
Julia Cunningham (G, FY): 5.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 37.5 percent 2 point FG, 31.8 percent 3 point FG, 78.4 percent FT
Taylor Baur (F, Jr): 5.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 45.3 percent 2 point FG, 70.4 percent FT

Kentucky
RPI: #22; National #17
Last 10: 7-3
Conference Honors: Rhyne Howard (SEC Freshman of the Year, First Team All-SEC, All-Freshman Team), Maci Morris (First Team All-SEC), Taylor Murray (All-Defensive Team), Blair Green (All-Freshman Team), Matthew Mitchell (Coach of the Year)

Starters
Rhyne Howard (G, FY): 16.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 50.0 percent 2 point FG, 38.6 percent 3 point FG, 69.9 percent FT
Maci Morris (G, Sr): 14.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 38.6 percent 2 point FG, 42.2 percent 3 point FG, 83.3 percent FT
Taylor Murray (G, Sr): 12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 51.5 percent 2 point FG, 26.7 percent 3 point FG, 82.0 percent FT
Tatyana Watt (F, So): 6.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.2 apg, 42.1 percent 2 point FG, 26.7 percent 3 point FG, 64.7 percent FT
KeKe McKinney (F, So): 4.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 apg, 41.8 percent 2 point FG, 20.8 percent 3 point, 56.2 percent FT

Key Reserves
Jaida Roper (G, Jr): 6.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, 44.1 percent 2 point FG, 35.2 percent 3 point FG, 82.1 percent FT
Blair Green (G, FY): 5.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.4 apg, 44.4 percent 2 point FG, 38.1 percent 3 point FG, , 88.2 percent FT
Amanda Paschal (G, Redshirt Jr) 3.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.4 apg, 29 percent 2 point FG, 33.3 percent 3 point FG, 76.6 percent FT

The Wildcats are a guard-dominated team with Howard, Morris and Murray combining to score 61 percent of the team’s total points.  While Kentucky is top 50 in two point attempts, they only shoot 43.4 percent from inside the arc.  They do most of their damage from beyond the arc, where they are top-25 with 36.3 percent accuracy, and at the free throw line, where they are top 40 at 74.7 percent.  Howard and Morris lead the way from three, making a combined 4.6 of the team’s seven made baskets a game.   Howard, Morris and Murray average just under a combined 10 free throw attempts a contest, with Howard and Murray shooting over 80 percent.

With Princeton’s 35.6 percent three point defense at #332 in the nation, Kentucky will look to take advantage from downtown.  The Tigers’ defense, however, is one of the country’s best at keeping teams off the free throw line (13.2 percent free throw rate, No. 12 nationally) and will aim to limit the single digit damage from the Wildcats.

On the defensive side, Kentucky’s quick guard-oriented lineup does a great job forcing turnovers, and keeping teams off the three point line.  The Wildcats are ninth in the country with a 15.3 percent steal rate and 25th with a 15.7 percent turnover rate, while limiting teams to 14.4 three-point attempts and 4.5 made baskets a contest.  Teams can get to the line against Kentucky, but they are generally so frustrated from being chased by their pesky guards that they are only shooting 63.6 percent on the year (339th, nationally).

Princeton has the benefit of participating in last year’s NCAA Tournament, as well as playing in the same arena and staying in the same hotel as they did a year ago.  Taking those those advantages into account, the Tigers offense will still need their stars to be at their best if they can pull out the upset.

Princeton will look to use its defense, especially Alarie’s shotblocking and rebounding prowess, to ignite its offense and get Littlefield out in transition.  The 5′ 9″ point guard from Iowa will need to be at her sure handed best as she will be attacked all game long by the Wildcats guards.  If she can beat the pressure, the Tigers can try to make hay from the inside.  Kentucky’s starting front court has Wyatt at 6′ 2″ and McKinney at 6′ 1″, but they do not have much depth beyond that with 6′ 1″ Ogechi Anyagaligbo playing the ninth most minutes in the rotation.  McKinney missed the last two games due to an injury and Coach Mitchell opted to play 5′ 7″ Amanda Paschal in a four-guard lineup.

In addition to getting the ball into Alarie and Jordan, Littlefield will need to score herself.  Unlike last weekend when she was held to four points over the first 67 minutes, the team’s second leading scorer will have to get on the board early and often.

As opposed to the Ivy Tournament finals when Jordan spent most of the second half on the bench in foul trouble, the 6′ 0″ captain will need to stay on the court to capitalize on the one major advantage that the Tigers have.  With the 6′ 2″ Taylor Baur still not at full strength, losing Jordan would force Princeton into sliding Stone into the forward spot and allow the Wildcats to collapse on Alarie.

If Princeton can minimize the pressure on Alarie, she should be able to put up points in an efficient manner and kick the ball out to Rush from the three.  Rush, the team’s main three point shooter who struggled over the last six games of the regular season (9-for-44, 20 percent), will need to match her dominant Ivy Tournament performance (8-for-13, 62 percent).  She most likely won’t get many opportunities on Saturday, but will have to make them count when she does.

If the Tigers can get through their SEC foe, they would face the winner of No. 3 N.C. State-No. 14 Maine on Monday.

 

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