December 12, 2018

Alarie Returns with a Bang for PU Women’s Hoops, Sparking Tigers to 54-42 Victory over Quinnipiac

HAPPY RETURN: Princeton University women’s basketball player Bella Alarie goes up for a shot in a game last winter. This past Saturday against visiting Quinnipiac, junior star and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Alarie made her season debut after being sidelined for nine games due to a broken arm. Alarie picked up where she left off last year, scoring 16 points and grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds to help Princeton prevail 54-42. She was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, now 3-7, host Marist on December 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Bella Alarie came back in a big way.

The reigning Ivy League Player of the Year returned after missing the first nine games this season for Princeton University women’s basketball team due to a broken arm to score 16 points and snare a career-high 19 rebounds in the Tigers’ 54-42 win over Quinnipiac at Jadwin Gym last Saturday evening.

“I was happy to be back,” said Alarie. “I love playing here. It feels really comfortable being back here. It felt good for sure.”

The Tigers improved to 3-7 and won back-to-back games for the first time this season while adding a huge piece to their lineup. Princeton is still without injured junior Taylor Baur, who hasn’t played since having 10 points and nine rebounds in the first game of the year.

“Grace (Stone) got to be a guard,” said Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart. “Sydney Jordan is out of position too but she’s more versatile. When Taylor comes back, then Syd gets to be a guard. We’re still a little out of position, but now only one is out of position instead of three.”

Alarie’s addition changed plenty for the Tigers. She brought added scoring (tying Carlie Littlefield for team-high Saturday), rebounding (Princeton had its largest rebound advantage of the year, 43-31), defense (two blocks and two steals) and just a presence on the court after a month away.

“I’m really happy to have given the younger players a chance to step up and get really comfortable on the floor,” said Alarie, a 6’4 native of Bethesda, Md.

“It’s given me time to focus on my left hand, on my leadership off the court and getting stronger, I’ve spent a lot of time doing. I can see now where the gaps are, and I can come in and play how I play and just bringing rebounds to the team is going to add a lot.”

Alarie’s rebounding was a difference maker. She had double-digit rebounds before she had 10 points. She was only 5-for-14 from the floor, though she connected on her only 3-pointer attempted and hit 5-of-7 free throws. She had five of her six turnovers in the first 15 minutes.

“I did feel rusty missing layups I wouldn’t normally miss, things like that,” said Alarie. “I hit my first 3. I knew my controllable today was rebounds and how I defended. If I hit no shots today, that would have been OK because I knew I was going to play hard. I’m glad we were able to come through with a win.”

Senior guard Gabrielle Rush had 11 points and four steals while sophomore Littlefield, in addition to her scoring, had a pair of assists without a single turnover, and picked up three steals.Princeton held Quinnipiac’s leading scorer, Jen Fay, 10 points under her average until a basket in the final minute. The Bobcats, who lost by a point to then-No. 10 Texas last month, fell to 4-5.

“They’re a really quality team,” said Alarie said. “We knew this would be a battle. I’m glad we came out with a win.”

In her first game back, Alarie also passed several tests on her healed arm. With 1:49 left in the second quarter, she fell hard after being fouled while corralling her seventh rebound of the half and Banghart and Princeton’s fans held their collective breath before she popped up.

“When I’m playing, I’m so in the moment, I just want to play hard and if I fall, I fall,” said Alarie. “I’m just going to hustle as much as possible. As much as I know she [Banghart] doesn’t want me falling, diving for balls, I’m still going to do it and give my 110 percent effort. I’m sure it made her nervous, but the first time you fall it sort of washes away the scares of anything happening again. I’m fine. We’re all good.”

Princeton jumped out to a 14-7 first-quarter lead, but was up just 23-21 at halftime. It was 30-28 midway through the third quarter when Princeton put together a 12-0 run to take control of the contest.

“I think it’s just energy and locking down on defense,” said Alarie. “I don’t really know the stats, but they scored 10 points or less. It comes down to defensive stops and generating energy from those stops.

Two offensive rebounds by Jordan led to a 3-pointer from Littlefield that put Princeton up, 34-28. The lead grew on back-to-back steals that led to two free throws for Julia Cunningham and a layup for Littlefield to build the Tigers’ first 10-point lead of the game, 38-28, with 2:35 left in the third quarter. Littlefield made two more free throws and Jordan’s runner made it 42-28 before Quinnipiac’s last-second score ended the quarter. Princeton’s lead never shrunk below nine points in the fourth quarter.

“This allows you to have a really good win when you’re healthy,” said Banghart. “If we’re lucky enough to make the tournament, we hope the committee isn’t putting too much stake in the team we were when we weren’t healthy. This is a really good win to have.”

Alarie’s return make Princeton a different team as Tigers can use her imposing presence at both ends.

“She’s just an alter-er,” said Banghart of Alarie, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. “She’s an excellent defender. She doesn’t get a lot of credit for that. She’s an excellent defender. And then offensively, she draws a crowd so other shooters get open shots. She’s still finding her rhythm with that. She’s a ball magnet, so the benefit is it takes all the defense away and really helps us. She’s just a huge piece of who we are. She’s the best player in the league and we played without it for this whole season so far.”

Banghart expects that Alarie will be even better as she adjusts to playing again, noting that she had just four practices before her return.

“We knew she’d be out until early December basically,” said Banghart. “So there’s two months – November is to get our depth for league play and December is to start moving.”

The Tigers will be better too as they get closer to full strength. “We have a really experienced team, and when me and my classmate Taylor are out, we lose a bunch of players who have played a lot of minutes before,” Alarie said.

“For the freshmen, they’ve had that chance and now they’re coming in with even more energy and they can see the way we play and how we want to compete every day.”

Early season injuries have paved the way for more playing time for their heralded freshmen. Baur and senior Qalea Ismail are still out, but with Alarie back, the Tigers took a step toward being the top contender they envision for Ivy League play.

“We have great depth now,” said Banghart, whose team was slated to play at Monmouth on December 11 before hosting Marist on December 15.

“Taylor will be back soon and when she’s back you have another big, and Sydney Jordan can move to a guard and you’re way deeper. Bella can play guard and we can go really big and put Kira (Emsbo) in. We like our depth.”

The depth starts with welcoming back their top player. Alarie was nervous but thrilled to be contributing on the court again.

“I feel like I have a lot to prove coming back as Player of the Year and I have high expectations for myself,” said Alarie.

“Coming into this game I was nervous that I wouldn’t meet my expectations. I think it turned out pretty well. I wish I hit more shots.”