Princeton bests Yale, 78-57, to advance to Ivy League Tournament final

In the teams’ first two matchups, Yale came out of the gate quickly against Princeton, the Ivy League’s regular season champion.  Tonight’s 78-57 Princeton win over the Bulldogs was a different story.

The No. 1 Tigers came out playing more aggressively and capitalized on early foul trouble for the Bulldogs’ Roxy Barahman to open up a nine-point first-half lead. No. 4 Yale managed to make it a five-point game with 4:59 to go in the first half, but three consecutive three-pointers from Carlie Littlefield and Tia Weledji upped the lead to 15 and the Tigers eventually went into the locker room up 39-23.

Yale regrouped in the third quarter, increasing the tempo, pulling Princeton’s Bella Alarie away from the post and getting inside buckets from Barahman and first-year forward Alex Cade.  Shooting 62 percent in the third quarter, the Bulldogs reduced its deficit to 52-43 with 0:56 left in the penultimate stanza. Back-to-back three-pointers from Kenya Holland pushed the Tigers lead to 15 and took the wind out of Yale’s sail. Princeton was able to rest its starters midway through the fourth quarter to get ready for Sunday’s final.

On the night, the Tigers shot 17-for-24 from two, 10-for-21 from three and 14-for-18 from the charity stripe. Their three-point shooting was even more impressive considering that the team started out 0-for-4 before going 10-for-17 the rest of the way. Alarie and Littlefield led the Tigers with 17 points each, while Leslie Robinson added 13. As the Princeton offense was clicking on all cylinders, the defense was just as impressive. The Orange & Black held a 46-20 advantage on the boards, and Alarie, the Ivy League and IHO Player of the Year, had 17 boards by herself, almost single-handedly outrebounding the Bulldogs.  The Tigers held the Bulldogs to 38 percent shooting overall and 18 percent from three. Princeton held Yale’s senior stars Jen Berkowitz and Tamara Simpson to 12 points collectively. Yale did manage to shoot 16-for-33 from two, but it was mostly on the strength of Barahman and Cade’s 10-for-17 effort.

In the postgame press conference, Yale ccoach Allison Guth, the IHO Coach of the Year, and her team knew they did not play their best on the league’s brightest stage.  While thankful for the experience of participating in the Ivy Tournament and proud of their season-long accomplishments, the coach and her players feel that they should be judged on their entire resume and should be selected for a postseason bid. Seeing how the Ivy League is the ninth-best conference in the land per the RPI, and all of last year’s Ivy Tournament participants got postseason bids, it is reasonable to assume that the Bulldogs will get another chance to show the nation their “Beautiful Bulldog Basketball.”

Princeton coach Courtney Banghart opened her press conference thanking her fans for their presence and their enthusiasm. She was thrilled that alumni and their families came from as far as California showing their support and respect to the present group of Tiger student-athletes.  Through the first three games of this Ivy Tournament, it is quite clear that Princeton and Penn have brought the largest and most enthusiastic fans. As the league office and the school athletic directors decide if they want to move the location of the tournament, they will need to look at this closely in order to decide if the lopsided audience support is due to geography or historical basketball passion.

Banghart, the Ivy League’s Coach of the Year, knew that her team had not played its best basketball against the Bulldogs and started out of the gate slowly each time.  For tonight, the key was to be aggressive and take the early lead. Two quick fouls against Barahman certainly helped the Princeton cause, but the Tigers’ style of play and their determination were the major factors for their success. Alarie and Robinson echoed their coach’s thoughts on aggressiveness. When informed that Yale’s Berkowitz and Megan Gorman only had four rebounds for the game, Alarie noted that she was disappointed in a way, since she went into the game expecting to give up zero boards.

Princeton will face Penn in Sunday’s final at 4 p.m. Banghart repeated her disappointment that the game is not being played at Jadwin Gym.  She joked that the malfunctioning shot clocks and printer, which required an assistant coach to get stat updates from her parents, would have been working at Princeton, but the coach was serious in her belief that basketball is a serious business and the top seed should have some immediate reward.  Banners are nice for posterity, but getting to the NCAA Tournament is the number one priority for this team and its coach. Given how the Tigers played tonight and the confidence they displayed in the press conference, it will be difficult for anyone to beat them wherever they play.