How Princeton women’s basketball clawed its way to the top of the Ivy League

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team’s campaign ended all too quickly due to COVID-19, but not before demonstrating the enduring strength of the program under a new coaching staff. (Princeton Athletics)

The 2019-20 Princeton women’s basketball team was by no means a “one-hit wonder.”

It was the product of a process begun more than a dozen years ago. Successful coaches do more than win games; they build a program, an organization that can produce highly competitive teams year after year. Successful programs are designed to withstand graduations, injuries, and the inevitable clash of egos and personalities in groups of a dozen or more highly competitive and talented individuals. To achieve success in college basketball over time is incredibly difficult. To achieve credibility on the national scene with a mid-major program and no athletic scholarships defies belief. Princeton has done that.

In 1970, the 225th year of Princeton’s existence, school administrators decided to adopt the revolutionary idea of coeducation, not coincidentally, I have always believed, in the year following my graduation. One year later, varsity basketball was introduced as a women’s intercollegiate sport. The Tigers enjoyed early success, winning the first four Ivy titles following the launching of a women’s postseason tournament in 1975. (The women played a postseason tournament until 1982. In 2017, the present tournament format was adopted. The top four men’s and women’s teams compete at the same site over the same weekend to determine the league’s NCAA representatives.)

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Bella Alarie looking ahead to bright future with Dallas Wings

New Dallas Wing Bella Alarie looked ahead to her future in the WNBA in an interview with Ivy Hoops Online. (WNBA)

Ivy Hoops Online caught up with all-time Princeton great and new Dallas Wing Bella Alarie to see how she’s been doing since she became a WNBA draftee last week.

She may be turning pro, but she’s still got her senior thesis to finish.

“I am getting there,” Alarie said. “But I admit the week of the draft was distracting. Now that I have a little breather I can finish it up. It’s due in a few days and I’m going to make it.”

Alarie played primarily in the post as a college player. She sees herself as a stretch four, and the Wings staff agrees.

“I played guard as a teenager and didn’t reach my full height until I got to Princeton,” Alarie said. “I was very comfortable handling the ball and running the floor. The Wings expect me to shoot threes and play at a fast pace. I am really looking forward to the whole thing.”

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Bella Alarie: A once-in-a-lifetime Tiger

Bella Alarie averaged 16.1 points, 9.1 rebounds. 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game over a four-year career at Princeton during which she named Ivy Player of the Year three times and led the Tigers to three straight Ivy League championships. (Ivy League Network)

This has been a week of tumultuous developments in the Ivy League, most of them sad and disappointing.

But there has been some good news from the league as well. Players of the Year have been announced: Paul Atkinson from Yale and AJ Brodeur from Penn on the men’s side, and the incomparable Bella Alarie from Princeton, for the third year in a row, on the women’s.

Alarie is the only Princeton player to have won the POY award three times and to be named a first-team All-Ivy player in all four years of her college career. She has been more than a once-in-a-generation player. She has achieved once-in-a-lifetime status.

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Princeton men falter versus Cornell, but Tiger senior class still shines

The final regular season game followed a great storyline. One of my favorite coaches spurred his team to its best offensive showing of the season, 60% shooting from the field, 64% from deep, five players in double figures and 85 points in a win. The problem for me is the favorite coach is Brian Earl, skipper of the Cornell Big Red, who masterminded a terrific game plan in the 85-82 Cornell victory.

Although the Tigers mounted a heroic late comeback effort, make no mistake about it: This was a convincing and highly deserved win by the visitors from high above Cayuga’s waters.
For Tiger fans the highlight of the evening was the more emotional than usual senior night sendoff to three great Tigers: Richmond Aririguzoh, Jose Morales and Will Gladson.

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Princeton men roll over Columbia amid coronavirus threat

The mood in Jadwin Gymnasium last evening as the Tigers squared off against the Columbia Lions was different than usual, almost subdued. Perhaps it was the miserable weather, or perhaps it was the prospect of a meaningless game against the cellar-dwelling Lions.

In reality, the distracted atmosphere in the building was the product of the minute-by-minute developing story of the nationwide spread of the coronavirus, which has now reached the east coast and central New Jersey.

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Princeton men’s defense stifles Brown as Tigers’ depth bodes well for Ivy League Tournament run

The Tigers claimed one of the four slots available in the Ivy League Tournament with a 71-49 thrashing of the Brown Bears in Providence last night. The key to the win was a signature defensive effort reminiscent of some of the best Tiger teams in the long and illustrious history of the program.

Princeton focused on the Bears’ formidable “Big Three” of Brandon Anderson, Zach Hunsaker and Tameneng Choh, holding the talented trio to a combined 33 points on 12-for-39 shooting from the field. No other Bear player scored more than six.

Brandon Anderson posted 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting as Brown struggled to score in a 71-49 home loss to Princeton Friday night. | Photo by Erica Denhoff

The game did not start out as a Tiger rout. Brown jumped out to a 5-0 early lead, but two Jaelin Llewellyn threes restored order after five minutes. Jerome Desrosiers and Drew Friberg came off the bench to spark a 9-0 Tiger surge giving the visitors an 18-10 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the opening period. Later, Desrosiers would feature prominently in a 13-0 Tiger run leading to a 40-28 halftime advantage.

Drew Friberg continued his hot streak in the second half. His long three at the 17:05 mark maintained the 12-point Tiger lead, but sparked a 14-0 run to put the game away. With eight minutes left and the score 56-33, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was able to reach far down the bench.

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Princeton women pummel Penn, 80-44

This week brought good news for the Tiger women. On Monday they received word that their 17-game winning streak and overall 21-1 record had vaulted them to No. 21 in the Coaches Poll and No. 23 in the AP Poll. Tiger do-everything player, Bella Alarie was named national Player of the Week by the USBWA. Princeton hoped to add to the excitement by dispatching their nearest Ivy competitor, second-place Penn, in the Tuesday night rematch at Jadwin Gym.

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Jaelin Llewellyn shines as Princeton escapes Dartmouth with 65-62 win

The typically wild weekend road trip to Boston and Hanover is over, and the Tigers survived with one of their goals, a berth in Ivy Madness, well within their grasp. We may well look back on this trip as the time Jaelin Llewellyn’s total game was on display at an absolutely crucial juncture for his team. Recognizing the need to step up in the absence of Ryan Schwieger, Llewellyn courageously embraced the challenge and, to put it mildly, delivered.

On Friday at Harvard, Llewellyn almost single-handedly kept the Tigers in the game to the last seconds, leading the scoring with 22 points. If he has had a weakness this season, it has been his inefficiency from deep. He takes more three-pointers than anyone else, but came into the weekend converting an unacceptable 25%. His 21 points on Saturday night gave the Tigers the spark they needed, and included 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. The final score, 65-62 Princeton, tells very little about the game.

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Harvard returns favor versus Princeton with one-point win

Princeton and Harvard have matched up quite evenly this season. Each team has scored the same number of points as the other and, after last night’s contest at Lavietes Pavilion, each has a one point win at home. The rubber match, if it happens, will also take place at Lavietes during the Ivy League Tournament next month.

Last evening’s affair, while hardly an aesthetic success, was an intense, physical battle that was not resolved until the final buzzer sounded on a 61-60 Harvard victory.

The Tigers were minus starting forward Ryan Schwieger due to illness. His status for tonight’s game at Dartmouth is unknown. Jaelin Llewellyn picked up the scoring slack for Princeton, exploding for 14 of the first 16 points and a total of 17 for the half.

Princeton made a nice five-minute run late in the half to grab a nine-point lead. Stubbornly, the Crimson clawed back to cut the Tigers’ margin to 34-30 at the half.

Both teams ramped up the defensive pressure in the second half. Mason Forbes, in particular, stepped for the Crimson as Chris Lewis spent more than half the game on the bench. Forbes did a great job defending the paint, contributing seven rebounds and 11 points in 22 minutes.

Mason Forbes was the KenPom game MVP of Harvard’s 61-60 win over Princeton Friday night, posting 11 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two assists. | Photo by Erica Denhoff

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Princeton bounces back with 73-54 victory over Brown

Last night’s contest between the Tigers and the Brown Bears matched two clubs apparently heading in different directions. The Bears, winners of five straight, including a win the previous night in Philadelphia, came in focused on a shot at the league title. The Tigers, on the other hand, had squandered their hot start by failing to be competitive in two of their last three outings. The humiliating loss to Yale was galling in every way. The question for Mitch Henderson was how his kids would respond just 22 hours later.
The winner of this one would at least maintain a hold on second place and move a step closer to Ivy Madness.

Read morePrinceton bounces back with 73-54 victory over Brown