Ellie Mitchell ’24, right, battles for rebounding position with Penn’s Jordan Obi. Mitchell moved to first place on Princeton’s career rebounds list.
Lem Photography
Princeton fends off a relentless Penn team in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals

Princeton women’s basketball earned a trip back to the Ivy League Tournament championship game with a tense 59-54 semifinal win over Penn at Columbia’s Levien Gymnasium Friday night. They will face Columbia, the winner of the other semifinal, on Saturday, March 16 at 5 p.m.

Forward Ellie Mitchell ’24 drew a charge from driving Quakers forward Jordan Obi with Princeton leading by three and 14 seconds on the clock, forcing a turnover and thwarting Penn’s last chance to tie the game. Mitchell also collected 12 rebounds to become Princeton’s career rebounding leader with 1,100, topping the previous record set by Margaret Meier Benchich ’78.

“She just makes plays for us to win ball games,” Princeton head coach Carla Berube said. “She’s Defensive Player of the Year or a reason, and it’s awesome that she’s at the top of that list for all-time leading rebounder at Princeton.”

Against Penn, Mitchell finished with six points, and her rebounds often led to scoring chances for teammates. She tracked down an offensive rebound in the third quarter to extend a Princeton possession and feed Ashley Chea ’27 for an open 3-pointer that gave the Tigers a 39-36 lead. In the fourth quarter, a defensive rebound and outlet pass led to a fast-break layup by Madison St. Rose ’26, who put the Tigers up 50-44.

“It was really special,” Mitchell said of the record. “I mean, obviously the bigger thing was that we got the win. There’ve been a lot of greats that came before me, so it’s really cool to have my name come up in conversation with them.”

No. 1 seed Princeton, which had beaten Penn by 17 points a week ago in the regular season finale at Jadwin Gym, looked uncharacteristically out of sync early in the semifinal game. Rebounds caromed out of bounds, underthrown passes turned into breakaway Quaker layups, and even the Tigers’ trademark defense showed a few cracks.

Mataya Gayle, a freshman star for Penn who’d been held in check in the teams’ first two meetings, had 11 points in the first half on her way to a 20-point night. The Quakers led at halftime, 30-28.

“I thought their defense was just really aggressive,” Berube said. “They were playing the passing lanes well. … We just played each other, so we know our offenses, and I think they just, took away things that we’ve been successful with.”

The Tigers gradually began building a lead after intermission, sparked by St. Rose, who led Princeton with 19 points, including 16 in the second half, and Kaitlyn Chen ’24, who finished with 18. They seemed to have the game in hand with an 8-point lead, possession of the ball, and 1:33 on the clock. But Penn’s full-court press defense forced a turnover, a Princeton basket was called off due to an offensive foul, and Obi — a senior playing in her last Ivy Tournament — made two clutch baskets to trim the lead back to three.

Princeton's Kaitlyn Chen shoots over Penn defenders
Kaitlyn Chen ’24 rises above the Penn defense for a first-half jump shot.
Lem Photography

Quakers guard Simone Sawyer stole a Princeton pass and called timeout, setting up the pivotal Obi drive against Mitchell on the right side of the basket. Obi’s layup dropped after the whistle blew, but the shot was waved off. In the postgame press conference, Penn coach Mike McLaughlin was calm but adamant that the officials got it wrong.

“I’m a pretty transparent person,” McLaughlin said. “That was a block at the end. That was a block. I actually watched the video four times over there before I came out here. I’m a professional, but I also have to fight for my players. It’s a block. And I think anyone who saw it and watched the video will say the same thing.”

With the game close throughout, Princeton leaned heavily on its starters: Chet Nweke ’24 and Skye Belker ’27 each played more than 31 minutes, and Chen, Mitchell, and St. Rose all played more than 37. The Tigers’ reserves chipped in with five points and four rebounds.

Princeton has been in every Ivy Tournament final since the league added the four-team postseason event in 2017. The Tigers lost the championship to Penn that year but have won the last four, in 2018, 2019, 2022, and 2023.

“We’re going to just get some rest, get back to the hotel and take care of our bodies, and watch the [Columbia-Harvard] game,” Berube said. “It’s a quick turnaround to be playing tomorrow and we’ll be prepared.”