The Princeton women showed off all the things that make them the cream of the Ivies Saturday as they declawed the No. 2 Columbia Lions, 77-59, in the Ivy Madness final.
The Tigers (24-4) head to the NCAA tournament undefeated in Ivy play, having won all but one league game — the dramatic semifinal against Harvard, this year’s tournament host — by double digits.
“The Tigers were just locked in to the game plan, to the scouting report, what we needed to do, what we thought would make us successful out there,” Princeton coach Carla Berube said. ”
Guard Kaitlyn Chen — in her first year of college play, like other Ivy sophomores — scored a career-high 30 points for the Tigers on 9-for-13 shooting plus 11 of 14 free throws and was named the tournament MVP.
Chen was just listening to her teammates.
“It definitely helps knowing my teammates have my back and they’re always there for me, and they keep telling me to shoot,” Chen said.
“I’m just glad, coach, thank you, that we got Kaitlyn Chen, because she’s an absolute baller at both ends of the court,” Ivy Player of the Year Abby Meyers said.
Meyers and Julia Cunningham had 16 points apiece, and Grace Stone had 12. The Tigers shot 48% from the field and collected 23 points on free throws as the Lions struggled to catch up.
Coach Megan Griffith’s Columbia team (22-6, 12-2 in the regular Ivy season) managed to come back twice. After facing an early deficit, they finished the first quarter tied at 16 and pushed to a three-point lead early in the second. And after Princeton built a 17-point lead in the third quarter, Columbia’s Abbey Hsu and Jaida Patrick combined for key baskets to make things interesting. Hsu finished with 16 points and Patrick with 13, and Columbia had a more than respectable 42% shooting night. That included 36% on threes — but the Tigers were more efficient there, too, at 46%.
What Columbia couldn’t do for any stretch of time was evade Princeton’s relentless defense, and frustration also seemed to contribute to the Lions’ 20 turnovers (to just eight for the Tigers). Princeton blocked six shots and committed nine steals.
“I’m not happy with that effort. They shouldn’t be either,” Griffith said of her players. “We played for, I would say, a good 15 minutes tonight. That’s not good enough against a good program. You’ve just got to want it more and you’ve got to show up, and we didn’t do that today.”
Meyers was the game’s only starter not expected to return next season, positioning Princeton and Columbia well for future matchups with more Ivy hardware on the line.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of great competitions between Columbia and Princeton in the future,
Griffith said. “I’m personally looking forward to that. I love a good rivalry … Penn and Princeton kind of had that in the last decade or so, but I do think that we are right there and you will see us in this rivalry for a long time to come.”
“They really have a great nucleus that [was] out there,” Berube said. ” … Yeah, I think it could be a really good rivalry for a lot of years.”
For now, though, the Tigers are top cats in the Ivy League, and they now turn their attention to the Big Dance.
“I’m just thinking about all these pieces that have been so monumental to get us at this place and it’s been such a great journey,” Berube said. “And I just don’t want it to end.”