PRINCETON – Five years ago, Princeton stood atopremoved ‘of’ the Ivy League, peering all the way down at Penn women’s basketball, which finished the first year of Mike McLaughlin’s tenure as coach with a 2-26 record.
But with the Tigers as four-time defending champions, Penn did the unthinkable. The Quakers came into Jadwin, pushed the Tigers around and took the Ivy title, clinching a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade and just the third time in program history.
“I don’t think these guys could have written a better script the way it ended tonight,” McLaughlin said.
Led by senior captain Alyssa Baron and freshman sensation Sydney Stipanovichok & ok, Penn women’s basketball took down the heavily-favored Tigers, 80-64, and will await an unknown opponent in next week’s NCAA Tournament.
“The last five, six, seven times they’ve played us, not only have they beaten us,added comma but they’ve beaten us soundly,” McLaughlin said. “I thought tonight we had to put them on their heels a little bit better.”
The game started out slow, with the two squads exchanging jumpers. Baron got Penn (22-6, 12-2 Ivy) going early with a few points, but Princeton guard Michelle Millerok answered with a three-pointer, leaving the Quakers with a 6-5 lead.
And then the Red and Blue took over.
Junior forward Kara Bonenbergerok got a rebound and a layup. Stipanovich hit a jumper. And then junior guard Kathleen Rocheok hit a three.
Meanwhile, Princeton (20-8, 11-3) couldn’t get out of its own way, turning the ball over with reckless abandon, tallying 12 turnovers before halftime.
“To be honest, I think the moment was a little big for my youngsters,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghartok said. “They played with a lot of great energy and excitement but not a lot of execution.”
And Baron began to take over with Stipanovich by her side. As the freshman center hit jumper after jumper off assists from senior captains Meghan McCullough and Courtney Wilsonok & ok, Baron took matters into her own hands, draining jumpers and driving for contested layups.
“I thought Alyssa put a lot on her shoulders. We rely on her for a lot of things,added comma and I thought she was special tonight,” McLaughlin said. “Mentally, physically, she is a gifted athlete. She is a determined athlete,added comma and I am just super proud of her.
“Her and I talk a lot about different parts of the game,added comma and she put it all together tonight. She is a champion,added comma and that’s what she wanted when we brought her herechanged ‘her’ to ‘here’ bc i assume it was a typo to Penn. We asked her what she wanted to be and she said, ’changed double quotes to single quotesI want to be an Ivy League champion.’”
By halftime, the Red and Blue were in full control, leading the Tigers, 32-19.
Penn had a banner first half, shooting 43.8 percent from the field while outrebounding the Tigers, 21-16. And Princeton shot just 32 percent on 8-for-25 shooting, getting a few triples from junior guard Blake Dietrickok and Miller but little else.
But Princeton came out of the half firing. Thanks to quick layups by Taylorchanged from Alex Williams and Dietrick, the Tigers cut the lead quickly to nine and looked ready to challenge Penn.
Yet Penn would not wilt under the pressure. Roche answered with a big three-pointer, preventing Princeton from getting within nine, something the Tigers were unable to do the entire second half.
Roche finished with 17 points, making three treys but none bigger than that one early in the second half.
“I love what Kathleen did tonight,” McLaughlin said. “She was the first one on the court tonight … and she shoots the ball more than any basketball player I’ve ever seen.
“For her to knock that shot down after they started on a 4-0 run, I was ready to call a timeout if it got past 6-0.”
After a Baron triple, Penn was off again, extending its lead to the biggest it had been all game thanks to Baron controlling the offensive end and Princeton jumpers that kept hitting the front of the rim.
However, the Tigers had another run left in them, led by the team’s strong depth.
Down 42-25, sophomore guard Annie Tarakchianok went on her own 7-0 run, cutting Penn’s lead to 10.
While Penn would answer with two buckets from Wilson, senior guard Nicole Hungok got Princeton four more quick points to keep the score close, 46-36.
Princeton kept going offensively, getting big three-pointers from Dietrick and easy layups inside from Tarakchian and Kristenadded Kristen bc first reference Helmstetter.
Yet Penn kept answering. Roche drained a big three-pointer to keep the lead in double digits and the duo of Baron and Stipanovich helped the Quakers with some big assists to keep their offense flowing, helping Penn lead, 62-50, with under five minutes to play.
“It was vital to keep our intensity up the entire game,” Stipanovich said. “In any game, we try to keep the intensity high,added comma but tonight the energy was there.”
And from there, the Red and Blue turned to their free-throw shooting to keep the Tigers at bay.
Princeton got into major foul trouble, with Helmstetter and Tarakchian each picking up their fourth fouls late in the second half.changed comma to period and deleted ‘and’ Stipanovich and McCullough responded by draining free throws to keep Penn’s lead in double digits.
Ultimately, the Quakers didn’t let the pressure get to them, made their free throws and celebrated an Ivy championship on the Tigers homecourt.
With 35.9 seconds left, McLaughlin let himself begin the celebration, taking out McCullough and giving her a big hug in front of Penn’s bench.
“I said [to Meghan], ‘We did it,changed period to comma‘” McLaughlin said. “That’s what she wanted. That’s what she wanted to feel. As a coach, you just want those special moments for your kids that you can’t go back on. I told them in the locker room … you are going to live with this forever.”
The game was in many ways the opposite of the two teams’moved apostrophe to after ‘s’ first meeting on Jan. 11, in whichchanged ‘when’ to ‘in which’ the Tigers raced out to an early lead and never looked back, finishing off Penn in the early second half to win, 84-53.
Baron finished with a game-high 23 points while also tallying four assists for the Quakers. Meanwhile, Stipanovich scored 19 points and added nine rebounds as well. The duo went 14-for-15 from the free-throw line, making clutch shots as the clock ticked away.
“We’re a resilient team and we’ve faced some setbacks, losing some players to injury here or there, especially [junior forward Katy Allenok] who is such a huge part of our team,” Baron said. “It was sad that she wasn’t able to be here today,added comma but we just pushed through,added comma and some other players stepped up.”
Allen missed the game while recovering from foot surgery. Allen’s absencechanged from ‘absense’ limited Penn’s bench, prompting McLaughlin to go with just two players, Wilson and junior Renee Buschadded junior, off the bench for much of the night.
Penn will find out on Monday who its next opponent is. The last time Penn played in the NCAA Tournament in 2004changed ’(2004)’ to ‘in 2004’, the Quakers played as a 16 seed against No. 1 Connecticut.
But more importantly, the Red and Blue picked up the biggest win of the McLaughlin era, finishing their ascent up the Ivy League and taking down Princeton in the process.
“It’s just a huge accomplishment,” Baron said. “We had an overall team effort tonight,added comma and it’s what I’ve been dreaming about for four years. Every year now, we’ve been working towards it and building the pieces of the puzzle,added comma and tonight we were able to get it accomplished.
“It is just so gratifying for all our hard work.”