Depth comes up big for No. 25 Princeton in impressive win at the Palestra

The long awaited and eagerly anticipated showdown between the Penn and Princeton women to open the Ivy season was played at the Palestra Saturday. The two teams came into the contest with a combined record of 22-2, each with but one blemish. First-year Tiger coach Carla Berube stated that she was thrilled to make her Ivy debut in one of the most iconic venues in all of college basketball.

Bella Alarie’s seven first-quarter points led the Tigers to a razor thin 18-16 margin after 10 minutes. Penn’s amazing rookie, the Ivy League scoring leader so far, Kayla Padilla, lived up to her billing with nine points in the period. The Quakers held only one lead, 13-12, on a layup by Penn’s great post player, Eleah Parker, with just under a minute to play. It was Parker’s only score of the game, a factor that would impact heavily upon the eventual outcome.

An ominous development for the Tigers came with 14 seconds remaining in the quarter. Carlie Littlefield, the Tigers’ All-Ivy guard, was whistled for a foul against Padilla, her second, who was in the act of shooting a three-pointer. The foul sent Littlefield to the bench, from which she observed the entire second quarter, and Padilla to the charity stripe from which she canned all three free throws.

Without Littlefield, the Tigers did not miss a beat. Abby Meyers replaced her in the lineup and in the scoring column. Meyers would contribute a very valuable 14 points in just 18 minutes of play.

In the second period the Tigers extended their lead to nine, at 30-21, often by converting offensive rebounds into layups. Padilla, proving herself almost unstoppable, kept the Quakers within reach at the end of the half, 33-30 Tigers.

This Tiger team has established itself as a defensive colossus, particularly in the second half of close games. This game was no exception. Getting down to business, Princeton held the Quakers to just  four points for the first seven minutes of the third quarter (two Phoebe Sterba free throws and a Padilla layup). Meanwhile, the Tigers, behind the scoring heroics of senior co-captains Alarie and Taylor Baur, built a 17-point lead, 51-34.

One play in the middle of the quarter deserves mention as an example Alarie’s will to win.  She rebounded a miss by the Quakers’ Tori Crawford. At the other end a Littlefield shot rattled around the rim before bouncing away. Alarie rebounded but missed the putback. She rebounded her own missed shot, made her second attempt, was fouled and made the free throw. In a little more than 10 seconds, Alarie accounted for three rebounds and three points.

Once again, a late flurry by Padilla kept the Quakers’ flickering hopes alive. The third quarter ended with the Tigers holding a 12-point advantage, 54-42. The Quakers’ were held to a season-low 12 points, eight of those from Padilla.

Princeton pulled away in the final stanza, ramping up its defensive pressure and demonstrating tremendous depth and versatility on offense. Penn scored a meager 25 points in the second half to 42 for Princeton. Padilla (27), Crawford (13) and Sterba (11) were responsible for 51 of the 55.

For the Tigers it was Senior Night. Alarie and Baur each contributed a double-double: Alarie (25-11) and Baur (15-13). In all, six Tigers played more than half the game, and a seventh, Abby Meyers, as noted above, scored 14 points in 18 minutes. Princeton grabbed 19 more rebounds than the Quakers, adding eight steals and four blocked shots.

What was expected to be the Tigers’ toughest league game turned into a 20-point rout; 75-55 Princeton. This group has a chance to do historic things. Under the firm and confident leadership of Carla Berube they just might.

Although things went the Tigers’ way in this one this game may be remembered for the Ivy debut of Kayla Padilla. She may very well accomplish some historical things as a Quaker. At times yesterday the league’s stingiest defense had no answer for her extraordinary ability.

All in all, this was a fabulous weekend for the Princeton men and women against their closest and bitterest rival. Let’s hope the forced three-week hiatus will leave no deleterious effects. The Tigers’ season resumes at Dartmouth on Jan. 31.

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