Littlefield Steps Up to Spark PU Women’s Hoops, Helping Tigers to Weekend Sweep, Ivy Playoff Spot
AHEAD OF THE FIELD: Princeton University women’s basketball player Carlie Littlefield heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore point guard Littlefield tallied a game-high 18 points to help the Tigers pull away to a 64-47 win over visiting Dartmouth and clinch a spot in the upcoming Ivy League postseason tourney. A day later, Littlefield chipped in 17 points to help the Tigers edge Harvard 61-58 and improve to 18-9 overall and 10-2 Ivy. The Tigers will wrap up regular season play with games at Brown on March 8 and at Yale on March 9. Princeton will start play in the Ivy tourney on March 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Having played three games in a five-day stretch from February 22-26, the Princeton University women’s basketball team came out a little sluggish as it hosted Dartmouth last Friday evening.
With junior star Bella Alarie banged up and senior Qalea Ismail leaving the game with a knee injury, Princeton struggled to find a rhythm, missing all eight of its three-point attempts in the half.
Sensing that the Tigers needed someone to step up, sophomore point guard Carlie Littlefield took charge, scoring 10 points to serve as a catalyst with the Tigers trailing 28-27 at halftime.
“I knew if they needed me to, I could, so that is what I tried to do,” said Littlefield, a 5’9 native of Waukee, Iowa.
“I tried to get everyone going; we did have a slow first half so I was just doing whatever I could to keep us in it.”
In the third quarter, Littlefield scored eight points as the Tigers picked up the pace, outscoring the Big Green 27-8 and never looked back on the way to a 64-47 win, clinching a spot in the Ivy League postseason tournament which starts on March 16.
“She (head coach Courtney Banghart) told us to lock in, that was the message,” said Littlefield in reflecting on the third quarter which saw the Tigers go on 22-4 run over the last 7:23 of the period.
“Since we had so many games in so few days, she told us we needed to lock in and we weren’t going to want this game back. I knew I could get in lanes a little bit, that is what I tried to do. I tried to pick up the speed of the game and get a few easy ones for us.”
Princeton coach Banghart credited Littlefield with picking up the Tigers.
“The trainer told me before the game that Bella [Alarie] was just really tired, her body is sore,” said Banghart.
“Obviously we have been riding Bella for a long time; it was really great for Carlie to see that and know that we needed her. We needed everything from her – we needed her points, we needed her composure, we needed her toughness, we needed her grit.”
In the second half, the Tigers displayed grit at the defensive end, stifling the Big Green with a tenacious man-to-man look.
“Defensively in the first half we were switching and that takes a little bit of the onus off of individual responsibility,” said Banghart.
“We made an adjustment where we said you are staying on your own and we can put our better defenders on the better players and you can lock into that assignment. We were much better doing that.”
Littlefield also helped impact the defense, turning up the pressure on the Dartmouth guards.
“Usually she could change the tempo of the game in the backcourt,” said Banghart of Littlefield, who had another big game a day later, scoring 17 points as Princeton edged Harvard 61-58 and improved to 18-9 overall and 10-2 Ivy.
“She has really grown. I thought she changed the tempo of the game defensively in the third quarter by getting into the lanes really well. She freed everybody up to do it; she played a really good game.”
With the program celebrating its Class of 2019 over the weekend, Banghart was happy to see senior stars Gabrielle Rush and Sydney Jordan make some big plays in both wins.
“The seniors are the ones that have been consistent, the two captains [Rush and Jordan],” said Banghart as Rush scored seven points against Dartmouth and added 11 a day later while Jordan chipped in six points and five rebounds on Friday and then had 10 points and seven rebounds in the win over Harvard.
“Bella, Carlie, Rush, and Sydney have been a huge four person group and they need to keep being that. That fifth spot is probably going to be by committee. The better these four play, that is going to help us.”
With Princeton having posted eight straight wins and gone 17-2 since a 1-7 start, Banghart believes her squad is becoming more consistent.
“As we get further into the season, we are finding ourselves; we need to play better and we will,” said Banghart, whose team wraps up regular season play with games at Brown on March 8 and at Yale on March 9.
“It is going to start on the defensive end. We need to be better defensively to start the game and hopefully play with a little bit more freedom on offense.”
Littlefield, for her part, is seeing that progress. “Coach has said we have gotten better every game and I completely agree,” said Littlefield, who is averaging 13.3 points, 3.1 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game.
“There are little pieces that we get better every game so if we just continue to build and put all of this pieces together, we will be really hard to stop. It is fun.”
With the postseason on the horizon, Littlefield and her teammates are looking to make things fun for the squad’s trio of seniors, Rush, Jordan, and Ismail.
“They are a great example, they all are the most competitive and hardworking people that I know,” said Littlefield. “I know our whole team and all six of our freshmen really want to do it for them.”