After falling flat in the second half, Penn women's basketball suffered a tough loss to rival Princeton Tuesday night at the Palestra. Although the 68-53 result brings the Tigers even with the Red and Blue atop the Ivy League, both teams still have much to play for with four conference games remaining. Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's contest.
The Quakers can't let the loss rattle them
While Tuesday's loss is a setback for Penn's Ivy title chances, the Quakers shouldn't let this result affect them too much. Looking at the big picture of this season, the Red and Blue sit at 18-5 overall and 8-2 in League play, in prime position for a top-two seed in the Ivy League tournament in a few weeks. The Quakers split the season series with Princeton, a team that beat them 63-34 on their home court in last year's Ivy League Championship, and were one quarter away from defending their Big 5 title before ultimately falling to Villanova.
The team's next two games carry just as much importance when it comes to tournament aspirations. Avenging their earlier loss to Harvard is next on the agenda when the Crimson visit the Palestra this Friday night. Harvard is just behind Penn at 7-3 in Ivy play, so the Quakers need to make adjustments from their earlier losses and shake off the negative memories come tip-off.
A matchup with Dartmouth awaits on Saturday, and the result is far from assured given that the Big Green are in the middle of a hunt for the fourth and final spot in Ivy Madness. A weekend sweep would almost certainly assure the Red and Blue with at least the No. 2 seed, and with Princeton slated to play the same pair of teams, a Tigers loss could have the Quakers retake the top spot.
Bella Alarie is the real deal
If Red and Blue fans are tired of hearing about Princeton's Bella Alarie now, they still have one more year to go. Her performance Tuesday night made her 21 points against the Quakers on Jan. 5 seem like a minor effort. Seemingly a head taller than whoever was guarding her, the junior guard and forward was unstoppable on both ends of the court and put up a monstrous 33 points and 10 rebounds. The Bethesda, Md. native has blown away her Ancient Eight opposition this season, scoring a career- and League-high 45 points against Columbia and 41 versus Dartmouth just a few weeks ago; she also has seven double-doubles through 10 conference games.
But when Alarie is off the court, Princeton struggles to regroup. While she was out with a broken arm earlier in the year, the Tigers went 2-9 in her absence. The team has gone 14-2 since her return, losing only to Penn and Yale despite Alarie's combined 59 points. Although she played most of Tuesday night's game, the Tigers could only muster one point while she was on the bench, so Penn will need to take advantage of their chances without her on the floor should the two teams face each other in the postseason.
Penn-Princeton will decide the NCAA tournament bid
Both sides have dropped one other game to an Ivy opponent this season — Penn to Harvard and Princeton to Yale — but the pair have dominated their Ancient Eight competition for the most part otherwise, with the two teams combining for 10 double-digit conference wins.
Barring an unforeseen upset in the Ivy League Tournament, Penn and Princeton remain on a collision course to meet once again, not in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but rather the Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, Conn. on March 17 — in the tournament final. With a ticket to the Big Dance on the line, both sides will leave it all on the court to keep their seasons alive, and it won't be a game anyone will want to miss.
The Quakers and Tigers have dominated the women's game in recent years, and the teams are aiming for their third consecutive meeting in the championship, having each claimed the title once in the past two years. But to get there the Red and Blue need to finish the regular season strong, and the journey continues this Friday against Harvard.
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