Princeton blasts Penn, 63-34, to clinch NCAA Tournament berth

On Sunday evening, the Princeton women dominated the Penn Quakers, 63-34, to complete a three-game season sweep of the two-time defending champions, taking the League Ivy Tournament title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Coupled with their strong performance against Yale on Saturday night, Courtney Banghart’s squad left no doubt in showing which team is the Ancient Eight’s best.

Like they did against the Bulldogs, the Orange & Black were aggressive from the start.  Sydney Jordan hit a layup 49 seconds into the game and that was the beginning of the end for Penn.  The Tigers went out to an 8-0 lead before Michelle Nwokedi hit a three-pointer at the 5:55 mark. Princeton’s Abby Meyers came off the bench to score the next 11 points to open a commanding 19-3 lead at the end of the opening frame.  The Tigers defensive intensity led them to a 16-6 rebounding advantage as they held Penn to a 1-for-14 performance from the field.

Penn finally got into a offensive rhythm, going on a 7-0 run after the Tigers expanded its lead to 24-3 early in the second quarter.  After Nwokedi scored her eighth and ninth points of the half, making it a 15-point game with 1:18 to go until halftime, Meyers hit two more baskets to push the lead back to 19 at the break. The Tigers held the Quakers to 21 percent overall shooting and 27 percent from three, while holding a plus-12 advantage on the boards and a 20-point advantage in bench production.

The Tigers did not give Penn any chance to stage a second half comeback, holding Penn to 19 percent shooting and 0-for-7 from three in the third quarter as Princeton finished the first 30 minutes up 28 points.  The Quakers never got any closer than 24 points as the Tigers stars came off the court to take a bow and celebrate their tournament championship.

Looking at the stat sheet, Meyers led all scorers with 18 points, while the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Bella Alarie had eight points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.  Meyers was the only double figure scorer for Princeton, but she led seven different players with six or more points. Penn’s sizable front court limited the Tigers to 36 percent two-point shooting, but the Orange & Black did its damage from downtown, hitting nine three-pointers at a 43 percent rate.  The Tigers also had success on the defensive end, holding a 17 percent rebounding advantage and limiting Penn to eight two-pointers at a 26 percent rate and four three-pointers at a 17 percent rate. The point total, shooting percentage and number of made baskets were all season lows for Penn.  Nwokedi totaled a team high 13 points for the Quakers, but she was only one of five scorers and the only player in double digits.

The Tigers ended conference play defeating Penn on three occasions, twice at the Palestra, by a total of 64 points. Coach Banghart made no secret of her displeasure of having her regular season champions having to earn the automatic bid by playing the number two seed in their own building.  With a team that proved themselves to be the stronger, faster and deep squad, it ultimately (and, thankfully, for league officials) did not matter where the game was played.

The Quakers lost their dream for an Ivy three-peat and do not appear to have a strong enough resume to make it as an automatic bid for the NCAA field.  However, they are listed as an Automatic Qualifier for the Women’s NIT. So, Nwokedi, Anna Ross, Lauren Whitlatch and Beth Brzozowski have at least one more game in their storied careers.  Even in defeat, Penn played a good defensive game and held the high scoring Tigers almost five points below their season average. There is no doubt that the Red & Blue will bring its defensive intensity into the postseason, but they will have to improve upon the 30 percent two point and 24 percent three-point shooting from this weekend’s games if they want to get past the opening round.


The Tigers are playing their best basketball of the season at just the right time.  They have one of the nation’s best defenses, one of its best all-around players in Alarie, one of its best passing frontcourt players in Leslie Robinson and a deep bench that can hit from all over the court.  As they return to the Big Dance for the first time since being the conference’s first at-large team in 2016, they will find out their first round opponent during Monday night’s 7:00 p.m. selection show on ESPN. Princeton’s strong nonconference schedule, No. 29 RPI ranking, three defeats of Penn, past tournament performance and the league’s RPI ranking should give the team a favorable draw. While their specific matchup is not known at this time, the one thing that is certain is that any team that gets the Orange & Black better do its homework or it will be in for a big surprise and a very short stay.