Princeton women’s basketball fought back from an early deficit against Utah in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday night, but the Tigers’ comeback stalled in the fourth quarter, allowing the Utes to secure a 63-56 win on their home court.
“We feel like we came up short of our goal, but I think we battled from minute one to minute 40 and I couldn’t be prouder of my team and how hard we played,” Princeton head coach Carla Berube said in the postgame press conference. “Some shots just didn’t fall for us. And Utah is a very good team, very talented, hard to guard. … We had our work cut out for us, but I think we were right there.”
Utah scored 20 points in the opening quarter, taking an 8-point lead, and led by as many as 13 in the first half. For the game, Princeton held the Utes’ prolific offense in check, forcing 20 turnovers and allowing just one made 3-pointer. But there was one key exception: forward Alissa Pili, who finished the game with 28 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 11 free throws on 13 tries.
“We were sending [double teams] any time she put the ball on the floor, tried to take away baseline, which is she is really good at scoring [there],” Berube said. “She’s a full-team responsibility — it’s not just on one player.”
Princeton struggled on offense, shooting 28.7% from the field. Leading scorer Kaitlyn Chen ’24 finished with 19 points despite missing all five of her 3-point attempts. Grace Stone ’23 contributed 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Ellie Mitchell ’24 scored nine points, led the Tigers with 18 rebounds (10 on the offensive end), and provided consistent toughness in the lane.
Stone spoke admiringly of Mitchell’s gritty performance and what she’s meant to the Tigers. “That girl puts her body on the line every single day, every single practice, every game,” she said.
The Tigers came out of the halftime locker room trailing by six, 32-26, and late in the third quarter, a 7-0 Princeton run cut Utah’s lead to two, 44-42. The Tigers would never get closer than that. After a scoring drought in the fourth quarter, they were forced to start fouling to get extra possessions. The Utes made their free throws and held on for the win.
Princeton, the first women’s team in Ivy League history to win NCAA Tournament games in consecutive years, finished the season with a 24-6 record, including a 16-game winning streak that ended on Sunday.
Berube thanked the team’s five seniors — Stone, co-captains Julia Cunningham and Maggie Connolly, Kira Emsbo, and Lexi Weger — calling them the “backbone” of Princeton’s successful season. “They all have different roles on this team, and they bought in to what we needed from them,” she said. “Two of them don’t get a lot of minutes, but they are incredibly important to us.”