For the second time in three years, the Ivy League women’s basketball title came down to one game, the season finale between Princeton and Penn. And for the Tigers, this year’s result was disappointingly familiar.
Princeton fell to Penn, 62–60, March 8 at Jadwin Gym. The Quakers earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while the Tigers received an at-large invitation, the first in Ivy history. (Results from Princeton’s March 18 opener against West Virginia were not available for this issue.)
Princeton trailed for most of the contest, as Penn seemed to have an answer for every challenge. When Alex Wheatley ’16 finally put the Tigers ahead, 56–55, with two minutes remaining, Quaker guard Anna Ross replied with a layup and was fouled. She converted the free throw to put Penn up 58–56. Princeton never regained the lead.
Open shots were hard to come by on both ends of the court. Penn was able to slow the Tigers with full-court pressure. “They’re very skilled and they have a lot of kids that can score,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin explained. “We didn’t want to guard them [in the half court] for 25 seconds a possession.”
Wheatley led Princeton with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting and also tied for a team-high with seven rebounds. “She was our most aggressive player tonight,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “She was tremendous. I’m really proud of her.”
While Princeton has won five Ivy titles in the last seven seasons, Penn has emerged as its staunchest rival. The Quakers won the league title in a Jadwin finale in 2014, and this year, they handed the Tigers their only two Ivy losses, each by a two-point margin.
The NCAA bid set up a third tournament trip for Princeton’s five seniors, Wheatley, Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller, Annie Tarakchian, and Taylor Williams. Entering the postseason, members of the Class of 2016 had combined for 326 starts while compiling a 97–22 record over four seasons.
Next year, the Ivy’s NCAA Tournament bids — women’s and men’s — are guaranteed to be decided in the final game: The league announced that it will hold four-team playoffs at the Palestra March 11–12, 2017, ending its longstanding distinction as the only league in Division I without a conference tournament.