In this year's Ivy League, Princeton women's basketball has all but locked down the crown. We've seen two Penn-Princeton games in the last two months, and the New Jersey side has outclassed its rival from across the Delaware River both times.
After Tuesday night's 80-44 drubbing of Penn, the No. 23 Tigers have won 18 straight games, are a perfect 10-0 in Ivy League play, and stand at 22-1 on the season.
In a year where Penn has also beaten an Ancient Eight foe by an equal 36-point margin, Princeton handily returned the favor and sent the Red and Blue crashing down after they had won their previous seven contests, all against conference opposition.
The Quakers fell behind early and were never able to recover, partly due to a 21-point performance from senior guard Bella Alarie, last week's USBWA National Player of the Week.
But on a team of offensive and defensive weapons, Alarie is just one player the Quakers have to worry about.
Junior guard Carlie Littlefield averages 13.2 points a game and leads the team in assists (71) and steals (44). Sophomore guard Julia Cunningham is shooting at a 32.5% clip from beyond the arc, and senior forward Taylor Baur is a force on all ends of the court, with more than 20 assists, steals, and blocks on the season.
Even bench players, like freshman forward Ellie Mitchell, are regularly at risk of having a big night. The rookie went off for 13 points and six steals against the Red and Blue.
But the glass is where Princeton really presses home its advantage. Over the two matchups between the teams this season, the Tigers have outrebounded Penn 92-52 overall and 38-12 in offensive boards. While the Red and Blue are 10-1 when winning the rebound battle, they fall to 7-5 when on the wrong side. The Quakers must stop these second- and third-chance opportunities while maximizing their own if they want to have a chance at victory.
And Princeton's defense? It allows the fewest points in Division I, just an average of 48.0 per game. The Tigers routinely find ways to neutralize their opponents' offensive tactics and limited all non-Kayla Padilla players to four or fewer points on Tuesday.
Overall, the Orange and Black held Penn to 16-of-50 shooting from the floor, including just 4-of-16 from three, the Quakers' second-worst mark in both statistics this season. The Red and Blue cannot be expected to shoot well every night, but they will have to be better to challenge a team of Princeton's caliber.
But most of all, it's the little things that can end up making the biggest difference. Penn only tallied one assist on Tuesday, compared to Princeton's 21.
Make no mistake, the Quakers are a very talented team. With a 7-3 conference record, they still sit solidly at second in the League standings and are on the doorstep of clinching a bid at Ivy Madness.
In terms of individual contributors, Padilla put up 24 points on Tuesday and will very likely be this season's Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Junior center Eleah Parker has been on a tear of late, putting up a double-double in five of the team's last eight contests. The senior guard duo of Kendall Grasela and Phoebe Sterba provide excellent support when the team needs it, both averaging over 30 minutes on the court per game.
But when it comes to facing Princeton, the Red and Blue just can't slow down their biggest rivals.
The only shot Penn has left at the Tigers will have to come during next month's Ivy League Tournament, where the two teams have a strong chance of meeting in the final.
WILL DiGRANDE is a College junior from Warren, N.J. and a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.