Sometimes, the shots just don’t fall.
On Saturday, Penn women’s basketball fell to Princeton, 70-55, at the Palestra. The Quakers shot just 33 percent from the field, while the Tigers connected on 24 out of 51 of their shots, including 8-for-21 from three.
The game was the Ivy League opener for both teams and the first rematch of last year’s Ivy League championship, which Penn (6-5, 0-1 Ivy) won 57-48 to punch its ticket to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The two favorites to win the Ancient Eight — who have combined to win eight straight conference titles — will meet again at Princeton (11-3, 1-0) in February, but the victory gives the Tigers a big lift in the opening stretches of Ivy play.
Entering the game, the battle in the paint seemed to be the key matchup as both teams boasted dynamic starting frontcourts.
In the first half, center Eleah Parker and forward Michelle Nwokedi more than held than their own against the Tigers’ bigs, as the Quakers trailed by just three at the break. But after the intermission, Princeton’s Bella Alarie and Leslie Robinson made the Quakers pay.
The two Princeton forwards combined for 21 points in the second half, and the Tigers broke the game open in the final quarter. The Quakers trailed by just six entering the fourth, but Princeton scored the first four points of the quarter to push its lead to double digits. The Red and Blue would never come within eight points for the rest of the game.
“I give a lot of credit to our inside game,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. “I feel like Bella in particular was incredibly physical.”
Alarie’s defense and rebounding also caused Penn a lot of problems down the stretch. The 6-foot-4 Maryland native flirted with a triple-double as she added 12 rebounds and eight blocks to her scoring total.
“Bella’s really good. She creates a problem, because she can play inside and outside,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She’s a tough matchup not only for Penn, but whoever she plays.”
While the Tiger’s frontcourt made the biggest difference in the second half, it was junior Gabrielle Rush’s shooting which put Princeton up at halftime to begin with.
Rush scored 14 of her 17 points in the first two quarters, including four makes from downtown and a perfect five-for-five shooting from the field. Entering Saturday, the guard averaged less than four points per game.
“They made shots,” McLaughlin said. “The bottom line is they made some really difficult shots at the right time, and we didn’t.”
In addition to Parker and Nwokedi, Penn also got solid contributions from senior guards Anna Ross and Lauren Whitlatch, who scored 11 and nine points respectively.
Ross connected on only 30 percent of her shot attempts, but she provided solid ball handling and facilitating for the Quakers all game. Ross finished with seven assists and didn’t turn the ball over once.
While this is a tough start for the Red and Blue’s quest to defend their Ancient Eight title, they will look to rebound next weekend when they take on Cornell and Columbia at home.
“Hats off to Princeton. We’ll learn from this one. We’ll be back at it Monday and Tuesday,” McLaughlin said.
“We’ll be ready for next weekend.”
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