January 9, 2019

PU Women’s Hoops Gets Big Game from Alarie But Fades Late in Loss to Penn in Ivy Opener

PENNED IN: Princeton University women’s basketball player Bella Alarie puts up a shot under duress as the Tigers hosted Penn last Saturday. Junior star Alarie posted a double-double with 21 points and 17 rebounds but it was not enough as Princeton fell 66-60 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, who dropped to 8-8 overall and saw their seven-game winning streak snapped, will now be on hiatus for exam break and return to action when they play at Columbia on February 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton University women’s basketball team trailing visiting Penn 37-34 midway through the third quarter last Saturday in the Ivy League opener, Bella Alarie took control of the contest.

Princeton junior star Alarie scored eight points over the last 3:41 of the quarter to help the Tigers forge ahead 44-39.

“We definitely felt like we needed to play off our momentum we took in the third quarter,” said Alarie. “I think this crowd was amazing tonight. The amount of people who showed up and were cheering us on was really special. We played off their energy.”

But over the last 12 minutes, Penn showed more energy, outscoring Princeton 27-16 to pull out a 66-60 win before 1,104 in Jadwin Gym in a riveting contest emblematic of the heated rivalry between league rivals.

“It is a whole new season once Ivy League play starts and you always want to start out with a win,” said Alarie.

“Every game really matters where with non-conference, it doesn’t matter. We all approach these games really seriously. These are the most important games of our season so it does feel really different in these games.”

While Alarie posted a double-double on the day with 21 points and 17 rebounds, those statistics didn’t mean to her as much as the final numbers on the scoreboard.

“They are definitely a team that really relies on their posts and it is always going to be my job, Taylor Baur’s job, and Sydney Jordan’s job to shut down the post players,” said Alarie, whose eyes were reddened by some post-game tears.

“I think we did an OK job of that; we do have a lot to learn from this game. I had a good line but I am so very disappointed in the outcome. I could have made more free throws, you just want to leave it all on the floor.”

Having missed the team’s first 11 games this season due to a broke right arm suffered in preseason practice, Alarie is in a good place as she has returned to the court.

“It is still an adjustment to have way more games under your belt is always helpful but I felt like every game I have improved,” said Alarie, a 6’4 native of Bethesda, Md., who is averaging 19.6 points and 9.6 rebound a game in seven appearances. “I learned more and more, like how I can really benefit this team and help them. As for my injury, that is in the past.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart disappointed by her team’s performance as it fell to 8-8 overall and saw its seven-game winning streak snapped.

“We didn’t play very well, which is good to know that we still had a chance,” said Banghart.

“That was not the Princeton team, we are better than that. We gave up 27 points in the fourth quarter. We gave No. 33 [Phoebe Sterba] seven 3s, that is the game. We didn’t finish possessions. I didn’t like any part of the game. I didn’t think we played well on either side of the ball. I like Bella’s numbers but this was not the team I have been coaching for two months.

While losing the Ivy opener stung, Banghart, a former Dartmouth standout who is in her 12th season at the helm of the Tigers, knows there is a lot of basketball to be played.

“I have been in the league now for almost 20 years and I won well over half of the Ivy League titles that I have been in the league,” said Banghart. “If you win 12 games, you win the league so we got to win 12 and now we have 13 games to do it.”

With the Tigers on hiatus for exam break and back in action when they play at Columbia on February 1, the players will lick their wounds and get primed for the thick of the Ivy campaign.

“I like our pieces,” said Banghart, noting that the Tigers suffered a loss to Yale in the second weekend of Ivy play last winter and rolled to the regular season title and won the league’s postseason tournament.

“It is good to get you eyes on who I think will be in the top half of the league already. I think us and Penn will be in the top half. They will get better by February  26 when we play them and so will we. The key will be who plays better in that game.”

Alarie, for her part, is confident that the lessons gained from the defeat to the Quakers will help Princeton get better and better over the rest of the winter.

“We have a whole month of January with nothing but exams and time to prepare,” said Alarie.

“I think we are going to build off of this game. We have learned a lot about ourselves and about Penn today and how we need to approach the rest of our games and the rest of the season.”