NEW HAVEN, Conn.—For the third time in the three-year history of the Ivy League Tournament, the Princeton women’s basketball team will play in the final. The No. 1-seed Tigers never trailed en route to a 68-47 victory over No. 4-seed Cornell, moving within one game of earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Princeton will play either No. 2-seed Penn or No. 3-seed Harvard in the final at 4 p.m. Sunday. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Though the Tigers (21-9) swept Cornell (12-14) in the regular season, their last meeting was a nail-biting affair — a 68-64 victory at Jadwin Gymnasium in which Princeton saw a 21-point fourth-quarter lead shrink to as few as two points. On Saturday, they put the game even farther out of reach, leading by as many as 34 points in the second half.
“We watched the film, which was kind of painful to see how that game got down to the wire last game,” Gabrielle Rush ’19 said. “We were expecting their pressure, we took care of the ball a little bit better, and we knew exactly what we needed to do to stop their two post [players].”Princeton built its lead with offense: The Tigers scored 25 points in the first quarter alone, led by a trio of 3-pointers by Rush, to take a 10-point lead. Cornell cut into the deficit with a pair of treys in the second quarter, but Bella Alarie ’20 answered with one of her own to keep Princeton comfortably ahead.
In the third quarter, the Tigers extended their lead with defense. They held Cornell scoreless for an eight-minute stretch, scoring 20 straight points in that span to put the game away. For the game, Sydney Jordan ’19 and her teammates in the frontcourt held Cornell’s Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, the Ivy League’s second-leading scorer, to only nine points on 4-19 shooting, and as a team the Big Red shot only 32 percent from the floor.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” coach Courtney Banghart said. “We give a lot of credit to them, and a lot of credit to my guys. It’s not easy to exceed Cornell’s effort — they’re a good team, they’re gritty — and our guys did that.”
Princeton’s starters sat for nearly the entire fourth quarter, getting some valuable rest with the championship game less than 24 hours away. Once again, Cornell went on a late run, scoring 17 straight points in the fourth quarter. But this time, it came far too late to scare the Tigers.
Alarie finished with a game-high 21 points in only 24 minutes, shooting 9-10 from the field and adding eight rebounds. Earlier in the week, she was named the Ivy League Player of the Year for the second straight season, having averaged a program-record 24.5 points per game in conference play. Alarie missed the first nine games of the season with injury, but the Tigers are 19-2 since her return.
Carlie Littlefield ’21, also named a first-team All-Ivy honoree this season, struggled from the floor, shooting 2-9 and committing five turnovers. But she was still tasked with almost singlehandedly breaking the Big Red’s full-court pressure, and when the Tigers’ reserves struggled to keep possession in the fourth quarter, Littlefield’s steady hand was brought back out. “Carlie is so great. She’s such a relentless competitor, a floor leader, and she has a ton of experience as only a sophomore,” Banghart said. “Tonight was not her night … but it was helpful to be able to look down your bench when things were getting a bit messy and say, ‘Carlie, help us out.’ She handles pressure really well and she has great court vision.”
Rush finished with 12 points, and Julia Cunningham ’22 added 10 off the bench. Jordan had a team-high five assists and two steals.
Regardless of its opponent, Princeton is likely to face a much tougher test in the final. The Tigers split with Penn during the regular season, and have also met the Quakers in the last two Ivy Tournament finals (Penn won in 2017, Princeton in 2018). They swept Harvard, but the two games were decided by a combined seven points.
Still, the Tigers will undeniably enter with the most momentum, having won 11 straight games since early February. “We came in here with a lot of momentum, we’re on a pretty big winning streak right now, and we knew that we wanted to come out swinging,” Rush said. “We wanted to make sure that we set the tone and the tempo from the get go, and I think we did that.”