December 18, 2019

Alarie Makes Big Return After 4-Game Hiatus As Tiger Women’s Hoops Tops Penn State 72-55

RETURN TO ACTION: Princeton University women’s basketball player Bella Alarie heads to the hoop in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Alarie returned to action sidelined for four games due to injury and didn’t miss a beat, scoring 23 points to help Princeton defeat Penn State 72-55. The Tigers now 9-1, play at Missouri on December 18 and at St. Louis in December 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Having been sidelined for four games due to some nagging leg injuries, Bella Alarie was fired up to get back on the court for the Princeton University women’s basketball team as it hosted Penn State last Saturday afternoon.

“I feel good; I was excited to be out there with my teammates again,” said senior star Alarie.

“This was a really big game for us and to really just come in and do what I could to contribute was all that I wanted to do.”

Senior center Alarie made a big contribution in her return, tallying 23 points with five rebounds and three blocked shots as Princeton pulled away to a 72-55 win over Penn State, improving to 9-1.

“I felt good shooting and just playing out there,” said Alarie, who drained 4-of-5 three-pointers in the first half.

“When I feel hot and able to shoot, I am just going to keep shooting until someone gets out on me. Being able to do that and spread the floor for our team really opens a lot of stuff up.”

Things opened up for Princeton junior guard Carlie Littlefield in the second half as she scored 14 points over the last two quarters to end up with a career-high 25.

“I just do whatever the team needs me to do so I was open,” said Littlefield.

“I got hot in the second half just like she got hot in the second quarter, so I kept shooting and they kept finding me.”

The Princeton defense kept up the pressure throughout the contest, holding Penn State to 41.9 percent shooting (18-of-43) from the floor and forcing 27 turnovers.

“We knew they were a great team that had some really good guards,” said Littlefield.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and we had to contain. I think we did a really good job and we were also the aggressor, which I though was great.”

Princeton head coach Carla Berube liked Alarie’s great play in her return to action.

“Teams that we play have to think about her more and game plan around her,” said Berube.

“Just to have her back on the court enhances what we have. The rest of the team stayed aggressive, I don’t think anybody bowed to her just because she is back now. I really liked how we all played with her. She was aggressive and did some great things on both ends of the floor, not just her shooting. She rebounded the ball well, she altered some of their shots and  played a great floor game. She set some really great screens for Carlie.”

Starting the second quarter with a 14-0 run, the Tigers took control of the contest and never looked back.

“Part of that was that Bella got hot; they were doing some trapping and we got some zone looks and some good looks at the rim,” said Berube.

“We also defended really well during that stretch and got out in transition. I thought Carlie did a really, really good job… on No. 5 [Kamaria McDaniel]; she was all over her and contained her really well. That was a bog focal point. It was just us keeping them out of the lane because they are so quick and can get to the rim so well. We just needed to be strong and keep them out of there. If they did get by, our help defense would be there.”

Berube was not surprised by Littlefield’s offensive production. “I don’t think anybody works harder outside of practice on her shot and it definitely pays dividends,” said Berube of Littlefield.

“She got that hot hand in the second half, whether she was coming off ball screens to the rim or we were finding her in our zone offense. She was making big shots at big times. Having these two [Littlefield and Alarie] on the floor together and playing like that, we are in pretty good shape.”

Although Princeton has gotten off to a hot start in her debut season at the helm of the program, Berube believes that the Tigers have only scratched the surface of how good they can be.

“It is just how hard we work, day in, day out,” said Berube, whose team has posted five straight wins and plays at Missouri on December 18 and at St. Louis in December 20.

“I do think we are getting better every game in different ways. There is so much more for us to get better at too. We are nowhere near our ceiling. I am excited that we are 9-1. I am excited for this road trip out to Missouri and having two big games out there to end this semester. I am just looking forward to being with the group out there.”

Getting the win over a Power Five conference team like Penn State was an exciting achievement for Princeton, particularly considering that its lone defeat this season came on November 20 when it fell 77-75 in overtime at Big 10 foe Iowa.

“Whenever you can beat a strong team from the Big 10 that is great,” said Berube.

“I look at every game as really, really important. We want to win as many games as we can no matter who is front of us. It is ‘let’s take steps forward every game and every practice.’ I am happy with where we are at. It was a great win against a very good team.”

Alarie, for her part, was proud of the way the Tigers turned the tables on a Penn State team that defeated Princeton 79-71 in overtime last winter.

“We felt like last year that was a game that got away from us in the last few minutes,” said Alarie. “So to be able to dominate in games like this and make sure it is a statement win is big for us.”