Editor’s note: Our George Clark (Toothless Tiger) recently caught up with Princeton men’s coach Mitch Henderson, who discusses how the Tigers recalibrated during the COVID-19 layoff and recruiting challenges amid the pandemic, previews members of the team’s first-year and sophomore classes, looks ahead to Jaelin Llewellyn’s senior season, the new Ivy schedule format and much more:
Editor’s note: Our George Clark (Toothless Tiger) recently caught up with Princeton women’s coach Carla Berube, who reflected on the “tough pill to swallow” of her debut 26-1 2019-20 campaign with the Tigers cut short by COVID-19, how her program got through the 2020-21 season that wasn’t, the blow of again losing Kira Emsbo to injury, the new Ivy schedule formatand much more:
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.)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.