Carla Berube needed but one word to describe the on-court presence of the Texas Longhorns Wednesday afternoon at Jadwin Gym.
The No. 11 Longhorns, the highest ranked team ever to meet the Tigers at home, used full-court pressure on defense for the entire contest. On offense, the visitors used excellent ball movement and great cutting to free up their shooters. The shooters responded by canning 52% from the field and shooting 4-for-10 from deep.
Although the final was Texas 70, Princeton 53, only six points of that 17-point margin came in the second half. The Tigers made the game very interesting, particularly in the third period, as they crept within five midway through the quarter. The cavernous gym was shaking at that point, or at least as much as 700 fans could make it shake.
The Longhorns seized the early initiative and the lead in what turned out to be the pivotal first quarter. Princeton handled the pressure quite well, although Texas was successful in taking time off the shot clock. The Tigers ran hurried offensive sets, producing good looks at the basket. The problem was that the Tigers were struggling to make shots. Abby Meyers accounted for all eight of her team’s first-quarter scores. As a team, the Tigers shot a woeful 4-for-18, or 22%.
Despite all that, the Longhorns led by only seven after the first period, 15-8. The second period brought more of the same. Texas once again stifled the Princeton offense, yielding only four baskets in the quarter. The Tigers made five of six free throws, however, keeping the deficit to a manageable 11 at halftime, 32-21.
A troubling statistic for Princeton was its 0-for-10 shooting from deep, a most un-Tiger-like performance. A bright spot was the team’s rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass and by Ellie Mitchell, who was outweighed by at least 25 pounds by any of the three post players the Longhorns sent in against the lithe Marylander. For the game, Mitchell grabbed 16 rebounds, 12 on the offensive glass.
Grace Stone and Abby Meyers got the Tigers off the three-point schneid early in the third quarter, spurring a 13-7 Tiger run, cutting the deficit to five, 39-34. Texas shut the door, however, with an 11-5 spurt of its own. Nevertheless, the Tigers now believed they could play with this team.
Halfway through the final stanza Princeton was very much a presence in the Longhorns’ rear view mirror. The Tigers edged within nine, 53-44. The very deep Longhorn roster exerted its will in the closing minutes, pushing the game out of reach.
Meyers and Grace Stone had five second-half three-pointers of the Tigers’ six. Meyers once again led the Tigers, and all scorers, with 21. Ellie Mitchell played all 40 minutes in what may have been her most outstanding performance. Her 10 points gave her a double-double to go along with her 16 caroms.
Kaitlyn Chen started for the second time, today facing off against the Longhorns’ remarkable freshman, Rori Harmon. Harmon, who is slightly shorter than the diminutive Chen, is one of the quickest players this reporter has ever seen. She scored 15 points in 30 minutes, adding seven rebounds. She was glued to Chen when the Tigers had the ball, essentially taking the Tiger point guard out of the game. Chen was scoreless from the field in 33 minutes, something that will never happen in an Ivy League game.
Berube stated after the contest that the scheduling of this game was serendipitous.
“They were looking for a game and so were we,” Berube said. “They were happy to come here this year and we are looking forward to visiting Austin next season.”
The Tiger skipper was more than proud of the way her club responded to the Texas pressure although she did allow that she was not “OK with losing by whatever it was.” Berube has stated that she wants to challenge her team, believing, in the long run, they will be better as individuals and as a team.
One more tough challenge awaits the Tigers before they open the Ivy schedule at home with Harvard on Jan. 2. The Central Florida Knights visit Jadwin on Dec. 29. The 8-2 Knights received some top 25 votes this week.